I watched the movie “Ender’s Game” this past week and found it to be one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while. Of course, I loved the novel when it came out in 1985, so I was likely to enjoy the film version.
Set in the future, the novel’s premise is that earth and mankind are being threatened with extinction at the hands, or more accurately the mandibles, of alien beings resembling insects. One invasion is thwarted through the heroics of a fighter pilot, but another bigger invasion is anticipated. To ruin the next attack, humans have begun a process of identifying and training children with the natural strategic skills to launch a preemptive strike on “The Buggers’” home planet.
The best candidates aren’t necessarily the biggest or even the brightest. Instead, they must have a psychological brew of one part compassion, one part brutality and one part cunning.
One 10-year-old, a slight and small-for-his-age Andrew “Ender” Wiggins, quickly shows he has the tactical skills plus the blend of violence and compassion sought by the military. He rises quickly through the ranks and advances to a zero gravity battle school (great special effects). As he advances, he has doubts about his own brutality and the morality of a pre-emptive strike. During the end of his training he’s led to believe he is practicing killing Buggers on a simulator when in fact he is actually commanding real soldiers into battle. (Spoiler alert: skip to next paragraph if you want to keep the end a surprise). Though he thought he was only playing a game, he actually destroyed an entire civilization and sent tens of thousands of soldiers to their death. In the end he also learns that the Buggers’ attack on earth was a mistake; countless lives could have been saved and peace possible.
The plot is solid, character development strong, acting excellent (although Harrison Ford has been better) and special effects brilliant. I give it four out of four stars.
The message is also timely as our country is routinely launching strikes against enemies in the form of armed drones (the reference to insects continues) that are both preemptive and taking innocent lives. The Obama administration justifies the attacks as internationally sanctioned acts of war; but common sense and Christian values tell me different. You can’t just declare war on the world and then assassinate whoever, wherever person you want. And what do you think the brother, grandfather, wife, mother, extended family, friend or neighbor of a child blown up by remote control is going to do with the rest of their life?
Then again, what are we supposed to do in response to 9/11 and Pan Am Flight 103?
Not that Ender is totally opposed to preemptive strikes, in fact he proves himself to be skilled at it. When a bully picks on him he first tries to defuse the conflict. When the bully throws the first punch, Ender wrestles him to the floor and warns him to stop. When the antagonist continues, Ender kicks him repeatedly into, and past, total submission. Later, questioned about his actions, Ender rationalizes them by saying that by showing superiority now he has prevented future struggle. Indeed, his strategy worked: the bully’s cohorts now extend a wide berth.
The difference between the bully and the Buggers in Ender’s estimation is that the bully was warned, and the Buggers not.
The difference between using drone strikes about the globe and kicking a dangerous bully while on the floor is that the first is a half-measure that invites only retaliation. Is the time for Ender’s game now?