“Ender’s Game”
It’s a premise we’ve seen a lot, from Harry Potter to Luke Skywalker: young child has a special power or gift or talent. The adults around him have their own agendas, but the child is still intrigued enough to see what happens when they help him develop the special talent. Then it’s all on the kid. Maybe even the fate of the world hangs in the balance, but at the very least, the character development of the kid.
Orson Scott Card wrote the award-winning book “Ender’s Game” in 1986. Since then he has enjoyed a spectacular career as a writer, so the plot dynamics are well-thought out: in the not-too-distant future, Earth is attacked by aliens called Formics, and Planet Earth barely survives. The remaining earthlings decide that this would be a good time to join forces for defense purposes, and the resulting military alliance determinedly prepares for the next invasion. They are always seeking talented cadets for their training academies, because they have learned that youth not only have better physical reflexes than adults, they also are more capable of very rapid and perceptive intuitive decisions, such as the ones they have grown up making in video games.
The strange thing is that battling the last alien invasion was actually very similar to a video game, in that pilots flying the small fighters not only had to concentrate on “dogfighting” with similar enemy fighters, they also had to somehow figure out how to attack the enemy “mother ship,” all while hearing constant communication through their headsets both from other pilots and from central command. We older adults, especially, get jangled into inertia by all that simultaneous sensory input, but certain kids thrive on it. Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) was one of those kids. Ender had figured out on his own that it’s all about analyzing the opponent. Once you’ve perceived his strategy, you counter it. But then the unexpected consequence also happens: the moment you know the enemy well enough to also know what he wants, you develop a certain empathy for him. Call it adversary love. In sports, sometimes the most intense rivals turn out to be the best of friends, because they have had so much in common.
Ender Wiggin is this skinny, soft-spoken, bright-eyed, solemn kid who’s so far ahead of his peers that at first they ostracize him because he’s so strange and aloof. But in the highly-competitive atmosphere of the training academy, Ender’s natural talents cannot help but rise to the surface, and he not only wins the grudging respect of his peers, his superiors virtually anoint him as the Savior of the world. It is Ender Wiggin, they say, who can command the Star Fleet that will bring down the mysterious Formics, and make Planet Earth safe again.
The sci-fi aspect of this film is highly-developed. Most of the action takes place in CGI (computer graphic imaging). Even when Ender is supposedly relaxing on his bunk with a video game, we viewers are invited into that fantasy world, also, where not only do we witness Ender’s “outside the box” tactical thinking, we also learn that even his own interactive game-playing seems to have developed a mysterious aspect. Why would his beloved sister, whom he misses terribly, suddenly appear there as a character? Is someone messing with his mind?
Well, yes, there is, and some viewers will get weary of the constant mind games in this movie as well (the guy sitting next to me left in the middle, muttering, “This is stupid.”)
But even though there are some slow parts, and we’ve heard this plot before, still, there’s something mesmerizing about how we get there. The performances are strong, but it’s really all about the creative visualizations on the big screen. Oh, and in the end, maybe we’re all just a variably gifted child figuring out how to make his way in a bewildering world not of his own making.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas