Saturday, November 9, 2013

And a Child Shall Lead Them — Ender's Game — JDIFF Screening Event

When children lead our wars, we have truly lost our ethical moorings.

(Orson Scott Card's book gets a 4)
ORIGINALITY 3 (Book gets a 5)
OVERALL Somewhat recommended. 
**Special Ender's Game Screening with the Julien Dubuque International Film Festival featuring Khylin Rhambo and Aramis Knight.** SEE LOCAL NEWS CLIP

This is mostly a film about boys made for boys. Which is not a bad thing if you have them. My two had a great time and in addition to being very entertained, we had a very intelligent discussion about genocide and ambiguous moral choices.

When I first encountered this story, it was as a middle-schooler just beginning to explore the science-fiction and fantasy genre. Even after many years, it stands out as a major work, one that made an impact on my development as a boy. One of the reasons (beyond that it is very imaginative) is that Ender is a strong, memorable character, who shows how a child can take on adult responsibilities, and may even be forced by circumstances beyond his control to accept leadership roles.

I rooted for Ender, through all his training, alienation from his peers, and coming of age in the space training camp. In many ways this story mirrors the trials of one's teenage years, including the mixed feelings one has for the father-authority figures in one's life. I wanted him to win! And he did, except for one thing—genocide.

We discover that Ender's game is no game at all. "Why are we still seeing these images?" Ender asks of the simulation, after it continues to show the enemy planet burning and collapsing, a whole civilization destroyed.

There are signals that something is amiss, seen in the stern, worried-looking Harrison Ford. He brings the proper gravitas to the narrative he must give to Ender, "These are beings that killed many on earth! We must go after them and wipe them out! Ender, you are the only one who can do it." 

Ender is tricked; or is he? His character is prone to violence, to total retributive justice, to ruthless pursuit of victory. Despite occasional flashes of compassion and deep emotion (conveyed only partially convincingly by Asa Butterfield), Ender is a battle commander at heart. This is what the general sees in him. Ender does begin to develop deep reservations about what is happening, and thinks he still has time to decide otherwise. 

Ender's Game reminds us that war-happy military-industrial minds will recruit anyone, even young children. But it also depicts something more basic: that war itself is childish. That the aims of war, and all the training and all the gadgetry (and in this case, all the cool space-age stuff like zero gravity laser tag) are all for a purpose that, seen in light of this story's end, is not only absurd, but colossally destructive to every form of life.

This is a good point to make in a story; except that, the film doesn't quite deliver, because of the massive production and sensational, block-buster style visual effects. All the boys who watch this film will get swept up in the adrenaline, the battle, the rooting for Ender to win! They will go away remembering the glory of it, rather than grasping the ethical dilemma.

Unless, of course, they are guided by an adult, who can teach them what the terms "morally ambiguous" and "genocide" mean, and who can help them process why it was that Ender was so upset, why he turned to a peaceful mission, and why it was significant that his enemy never retaliated. Parents who do so will have added a consciousness of war and peace to the minds of their children; and doing so recapture the true aim of the story.

Does this film transcend its author? 
I believe it does. The presentation of its ethical dilemma lifts this film, and the book, out of the morass of Orson Scott Card's personal views, his clumsy and rather stupid statements against homosexuality. Given that this is a story for boys about boys, one does have to wonder about the same-sex leanings of the author, despite his vociferous denunciations of it. (And isn't it those people who always come out most strongly against?) 

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