A black screen wakes up to white letters:
“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. —A.E. Wiggin”
It’s in this opening salvo of Ender’s Game we first meet the young hero of our story, A.E. Wiggin, aka “Ender” (played by Asa Butterfield of Hugo). We soon learn Ender is a candidate for Battle School, a program that recruits child geniuses to protect Earth against a final battle against a hostile alien species known as Formica or “buggers.” A balance between his brother Peter, who relishes violence, and his sister Valentine, who is too compassionate, Ender has caught the attention of two International Military leaders: Col. Graff (Harrison Ford) and Maj. Anderson (Viola Davis). Perhaps, they hope, Ender is the one they’ve been waiting for: a soldier young enough to be skillful with new technology, empathetic enough to understand the buggers, but enough of a killer to pull the trigger when Earth’s fate hangs in the balance.
Compared to the original book penned by Orson Scott Card, the film’s plot is rather thin. With a PG-13 rating for violence, sci-fi action, and some mature themes, it’s also not nearly as violent or problematic as the book. Ender’s recruitment and training in Battle School often seems in fast-forward, with little time for character development. That’s not to say it’s without merit: Adults and teen viewers alike will enjoy the panoramic vistas and the action of battle room scenes, including space-age suits and stun guns. Beyond that, Ford and Butterfield make a dynamic pair, with acting that goes far beyond the ho-hum script.
Sadly, the ending we reach at light speed is anything but subtle, turning the book’s thoughtfulness into, as one Associated Press reviewer put it, “an anti-bullying allegory.” Card, who is a Mormon, has been an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage. For this reason, members of a group called Geeks Out started a “Skip Ender’s Game” boycott of the film. (For a small taste of how Card has been treated in the media, see Alyssa Rosenberg’s An Ethical Guide to Consuming Content Created by Awful People like Orson Scott Card and a New York Times’ article characterizing the Ender’s Game boycott as “blacklisting.”) If there had been no witch hunt, perhaps Card’s original vision—with all its nuance and its numerous book awards—might not have been edited so heavily.
But then again, it’s also worth asking, is Card being eaten by a monster he helped create? After all, Tolerance, that great idol of our age, certainly looms large.
An early scene of the movie is instructive here. As Ender enters the battle room, where there is no gravity, his legs float up and he soon discovers his weightlessness. Being the quick study that he is, he immediately realizes there is no longer any up or down, and in the absence of gravity, he may define up and down however he likes.
In our postmodern age, love and tolerance—without any objective up or down—may feel like sufficient moral gravity. We may relish seeing ourselves as the noble Ender, while those we disagree with are the puerile Col. Graff. But in the end, whether in fiction or in life, without a Designer who can tell us what is objectively right and wrong, we’re competing in zero gravity … and bound to play the fool.
While the book may not worship the idol of tolerance, the movie clearly does. Which means for all its noble intentions, it will likely help ensure that those who share Card’s view of sexuality get more opportunities to suffer—displaying a higher love—at the hands of our “tolerant” society. As Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, described the relationship between evangelical Christians and Mormons in a recent address at Brigham Young University, “I am not here because I believe we are going to heaven together, but I do believe we may go to jail together.”
Listen to Emily Whitten discuss Ender’s Game on The World and Everything in It: