This Sunday, we headed to the movie theater to take in Ender’s Game. Ender’s Game is one of those books that I’ve always meant to read but never managed to get around to.* I really enjoyed the movie, and while I understand from reading various reviews that a bulk of the political intrigue that happens on the page has been cut from the film, I now feel no strong drive to read the book. Indeed, given the complexity of the story’s science fiction aspects, I’m rather thankful that Hollywood provided visuals that my sci-fi-challenged brain would never have managed to make so cool.
The story is as follows: Fifty years ago, Earth was attacked by an alien race known as the Formic. Only the heroic sacrifice of a brave commander saved the planet, and ever since then, the leaders of the world have lived in a state of constant preparedness, trying to ready themselves for the next attack.
Young Ender Wiggins (the perfectly cast Asa Butterfield) is part of that plan. It seems that children are thought to be much better suited to win space battles given their ability to think outside of the box, strategize creatively, fully commit without overthinking, and a basic fearlessness and lack of inhibitions. From a young age children are groomed to become commanders of giant space armies by attending special battle schools. Both of Ender’s siblings, his brother Peter and sister Valentine, were cut from the training program, leaving Ender, a superfluous “third” child (Earth has a strict two-child per family policy), to prove that his very existence isn’t a mistake.
Thankfully, Ender proves to be a savant at military strategy, and he quickly moves up the ranks. He constantly fights his outsider status by applying his ability to read his opponents and use their own personality flaws against them. It doesn’t always work, and when push comes to shove and Ender must defend himself, the results are devastating. Through it all the tunnel-visioned Commander Graff (played by a grisly Harrison Ford) is willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to defeat the Formic before they can destroy Earth.
While the plot as a whole does require a huge amount of suspension of disbelief – kids are given complete command of the Earth’s intergalactic military with the expectation that they will defeat an entire race of aliens?? – Ender’s journey is poignant and complex.
The acting is terrific. It’s refreshing to see Harrison Ford on the screen playing a role wholly suited to his age and gravitas, albeit I confess to being disconcerted at how old he now appears. Ford is one of the great actors of my generation, so this must mean that I’m getting old! Asa Butterfield depicted the perfect amount of disarming vulnerability. His sweet face helps him sell the idea of a kid who would be the victim of bullies, as well as one who would attempt to use strategy to make friends and avoid persecution by those jealous of his genius. There is a lot of thought going on behind his pale blue eyes. Yet when Ender reveals a backbone of steel whenever an enemy pushes him over the line, you can fully believe he has the capability of coming out on top. His brain trumps his lack of musculature.
The special effects are top notch. Since I hadn’t read the book, I had no preconceived ideas of what a Battle Room should look like, or how a space battle might play out in a virtual environment. I’m sure a fan of the book could speak with more authority on how well the movie makers depicted these futuristic elements, but I found them interesting. Too, Ender’s family’s home on Earth is familiar, giving us an anchor to the real world as we know it.
Ender has a couple of physical altercations with some particularly nasty bullies, and the overarching theme of the movie is the destruction of an enemy in order to keep from being destroyed yourself. That said, the violence is virtually bloodless, and I think this is a great movie for families as long as the kids are old enough to follow the complex storyline. It certainly provides opportunity for a dialogue about the moral implications of pro-actively striking an enemy in anticipation of an attack versus reacting defensively only when attacked.
My husband went to see this movie not knowing a thing about the book or the story. He was expecting a lot more about fighting aliens and left the theater somewhat disappointed. Really, though, Ender’s Game offers an almost quiet character study of a young man who realizes that the great gift he’s been given is not necessarily the blessing it first appears to be.
– Jenna AAR
*I confess that while I try hard to divorce the political viewpoints of a writer from his or her published works, in the case of Orson Scott Card it is nearly impossible. I find his homophobia and anti-Obama statements abhorrent, and I was honestly loath to pay for theater tickets knowing this would ultimately end up profiting Mr. Card. Sadly, I have to own my hypocrisy for not boycotting this movie on principle.