Being moved by Ender’s Game (book and film)

This is a fairly short post, and not much of a review – more a “if you like sci-fi, I hope you like, and I hope it moves you”.

I hadn’t really heard about Ender’s Game before watching the film on a flight. Even on a tiny screen with plane noise all around me, something about it hooked me. About a year later, I rented the DVD to watch it again. A few months ago I picked up the book which the film is adapted from, for fifty pence from my local Age UK. I’ve just read it, and it made me want to see the film again – so I did, on Netflix.

Quick synopsis of Ender’s Game: in the future, humanity has been invaded by and has repelled – but only just – a race called the ‘Buggers’ (the ‘Formics’ in the film – better). In order to pre-empt the Formics’ next invasion, children are trained as commanders, on the basis that they’re able to be more intuitive and ultimately more effective in leading humanity’s stellar fleet against the Formics. The ‘Ender’ of the title is one of those children.

I don’t even know why I keep going back to the film. I can understand why the reviews were lukewarm, why it barely made its expenditure back. But I think the film works better than its book in a lot of ways. There’s a sub-plot that’s trimmed out, it’s less sexist (more on that in a bit), the children are a little older (possibly just too hard to cast the right six-year-olds…), and there is a brilliant final scene that the book lacks. And the soundtrack is subtly epic.

There is also the awkward matter of the author, Orson Scott Card, veteran sci-fi author but known homophobe. That got a lot of attention in the run-up to the film’s release (maybe it affected the takings, maybe not). There’s not a whiff of it in the book, fortunately (there’s even a touching moment between Ender and another boy who kisses him on the cheek in farewell). Though there is the other issue of sexism; it’s explained that few girls get to the Battle School because “they often don’t pass the tests to get in. Too many centuries of evolution are working against them.”

Um. Right.

Card kind of makes up for this by making Petra, the only girl to show up, a better trainee than a lot of her peers. But she doesn’t get to make an appearance for long before she sinks out of sight again. She’s got a much bigger role in the film.

But all of the above aside, and despite the fact that a lot of the book was pretty average for me in terms of enjoyment level, the resolution of the story is deeply, profoundly moving. It taps into a timeless moral question: do you take action before another takes action against you?

I’ll leave you with a small excerpt from one of the last pages of the book:

“We are like you; the thought pressed into his mind. We did not mean to murder, and when we understood, we never came again. We thought we were the only thinking beings in the universe, until we met you… We could live with you in peace. Believe us, believe us, believe us.”

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