Friday, November 1, 2013

Ender's Game [2013]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-II)  ChicagoTribune (2 1/2 Stars) (2 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J.P. McCarthy) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (S. Adams) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review

Ender's Game [2013] (screenplay and directed by Gavin Hood based on the award winning sci-fi novel (wikipedia) by Orson Scott Card [IMDb]) is one of the most thought-provoking sci-fi films to come out in years or perhaps in decades.  Though action and even 3D special effects it has, these are decidedly beside the point.  (Note to Readers, as is almost always my preference, I saw the movie in 2D rather than 3 and the 2D worked just fine).  The film has far more in common in terms of style with Gene Roddenberry's original Star Trek television series, famous/infamous for its spartan sets and lofty thematics/dialogue, than with far more visually oriented sci-fi films ranging from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey [1968] and James Cameron's Avatar [2009] where the visuals clearly enhanced and/or arguably _became_ the story or the more recent/flashy StarTrek remakes where the visuals appeared to even try to _mask the lack_ of a compelling story.  

The current film, Ender's Game [2013], is set about a century to century-and-a-half in the future.  We're told in an initial voice-over that 50 years previous the Earth had been suddenly attacked by an ant-like alien race called the Formics that had apparently sought to take the earth as its own.  In the desperate battle that ensued, we're told that tens of millions of people died UNTIL a lone pilot named Mazar Rackham (whose name that every school child around the world now knew) decided to crash his aircraft into the heart of the aliens' mother-ship.  His action not only destroyed the mother-ship, but also (to everyone's surprise) caused the entire alien fleet to stop functioning and simply "fall out of the sky."  Mazar Rackham's action proved a brilliant, "out of the box" and spectacularly effective stroke that saved humanity from destruction.  But ever since humanity has been trying to prepare itself for "Round 2" against this utterly foreign alien species.

How does one prepare to fight an "utterly alien/foreign species?"    That becomes the first "lofty question" posed by the story's scenario.   It seems imperative that the earth's military leaders become nimble, capable of "thinking outside the box" as well as decisive. 

Now who would be best capable of doing this?  The world's leaders become convinced ... children.  Why?  As Col. Graff (played magnificently in the film by Harrison Ford) who appears to head the Earth's chief (and necessarily combined) military academy explains: Children are best able to integrate complex and diverse data and respond to them in surprisingly effective ways.  

But what of the morality of _using_ children in this way (as child warriors)?  "What's going to be left of these [child warriors] afterwards (after the coming next war with the aliens)?" asks Col. Graff's assistant, the psychologist Maj. Gwen Anderson (played again magnificently by Viola Davis).  "What does it matter if there may be nothing left at all?" responds that Colonel in a way that every other Israeli would probably utterly understand.   But that's exactly it.  Almost all of us would be torn here.  Using children's natural capacity to integrate information in novel/effective ways "as they play" into a means to prepare and fight a war seems really, really evil.  On the other hand, the threat is so grave -- possible complete annihilation -- that almost _anything_ goes.

So then Col. Graff and Maj. Anderson along with the rest of the staff at humanity's combined military academy go about training their child warriors and more specifically choosing humanity's future commander for this impending war.  Their focus centers then on a particular child named Ender Wiggin (played by Asa Butterfield) who appears to have been enough of  "a bullied misfit" (bullied but not overly so) to have developed exactly the qualities that they are have been looking for in humanity's next military commander: Someone capable of responding creatively and effectively to threatening challenges.  Can he rise to the challenge?  That's the rest of the film ...

Interesting are Endor's own reflections in which he realizes that to defeat an enemy one has to come to understand him.  But as one comes to understand him, one also comes to love him

And that, of course, becomes the final question that the story raises: Does war, in fact, remain "the only way" to respond to a conflict?   Again, the film's repeatedly about "thinking outside the box" and it becomes quite an interesting and thought provoking tale.

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1 comment:

  1. Hi there! Lifelong Christian and film buff and I love your work! The movie, from what you describe, seems a lot calmer than the book. The first book has Ender in a 5 year journey that starts at 6 years old. He starts it when he beats to death a classmate that was ridiculing him. This also happens 2 years later when he is 8 (Bonzo). Nevertheless I will still see it as a fan of the series. Saw a lot of your other reviews and planning on reading them! Overall, great review, well worded, and I hope to see a lot more of your work!