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Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013 12:01 am

Ender’s Game a pointed tale of moral sacrifice

Asa Butterfield as Ender Wiggin and Harrison Ford as Colonel Hyrum Graff in Ender’s Game.
PHOTO COURTESY SUMMIT ENTERTAINMENT

 

Having never read Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and assuming that it was just another piece of vapid tween fiction, I was unprepared for the thorny moral issues at its core. I had not anticipated thinking of Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory while seeing the film but it crossed my mind on numerous occasions. Examining the price of warfare – both in human lives, as well as how a government is perceived in the way it handles a threat – is the engine that drives this tale of state-sponsored paranoia and propaganda and the price that’s paid when morality becomes the first casualty of war.

Set in the near future, the Earth is in a state of panic as an alien race known as the Formics are preparing a massive invasion … or so say the intelligence reports that has Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) on edge. He and the rest of the military elite are desperately searching for a commander who can guide the planet’s military might to victory over a foe that nearly devastated Earth 70 years earlier. He finds him in Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a messianic prodigy who has a penchant for being able to quickly assess a threat and devise strategies to defeat it while others are still tying their shoes. The 12-year-old is quickly taken into the cadet training program where he undergoes a series of psychological tests that pit him against other candidates, as well as test the limits of his skill.

It’s impossible not to draw correlations between how the powers that be in the film react to the supposed threat and the manner in which the United States responded to terrorism after the attacks of 9/11. The fact that privacy rights are granted or rescinded smacks of the powers granted to the government under The Patriot Act, while talk of taking pre-emptive strikes against the Formics, recalls the sort of justification that led to the second Iraqi War. While these connections may seem obvious, and Hood is nearly too heavy-handed in making them, it’s to the film’s credit that it doesn’t shirk from introducing these themes to its potentially young audience.

If there’s a fault in Gavin Hood’s adaptation, it is that Ender’s training goes on far too long, nearly preventing the film from establishing any sense of pace or urgency. However, the director has cast his film well and his veteran actors bring a complexity to their characters that’s not often found in movies of this sort. Ford is his usual gruff self but he’s also able to subtly convey a sense of fear and pragmatism that helps him avoid making Graff an unsympathetic character. The always reliable Viola Davis is on hand, as well as Major Anderson who struggles to nurture Ender and meet his emotional needs though her callous superiors stymie her at every turn. Finally, Oscar-winner Ben Kingsley makes a startling appearance as a legendary warrior who pushes Ender to the limit, neverminding the psychological toll it may take on the young man.

The film does end on an optimistic, albeit tiny note, while our hero seems to be setting out on a fool’s errand. This is as it should be. Ender’s Game is not intended to be disposable entertainment but rather a thought-provoking, cautionary tale that reminds us that justifying a course of action for the greater good is often the road to ruin where governments are concerned. While it may seem desirable in our era of rampant apathy to mobilize a nation’s youth to better itself, forming a futuristic version of the Hitler Youth may not be the best course of action.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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