Orson Scott Card has undergone a transformation in the years since writing Ender's Game. If you haven't been paying attention here's the short version: formerly apolitical (or at least much more quiet about it), he now devotes a good chunk of his free time and spare cash to fighting battles against gay civil rights. He has compared gay men to pedophiles and written that the United States government is now an enemy worthy of armed rebellion. His words and deeds no longer fall in line with the humane moral of his classic science fiction novel. And this is, obviously, a bummer, but it's not like he's alone: Chick-Fil-A sandwiches are delicious, Chinatown is one of the great films of the 1970s and Mel Gibson has starred in a variety of really entertaining Mad Max and Lethal Weapon installments, even as Chick-Fil-A's CEO plays hardball on Card's anti-gay team, Roman Polanski once raped a teenage girl, and Mel Gibson... has all the problems Mel Gibson has. If you love movies what's the proper response to guys like this?
There isn't one. You have to decide that for yourself. Boycott one or all of them, if you wish. Do it loudly, even. It may never affect any of those people economically, but it will keep the conversation about human decency going. And based on the evidence available we really need to keep having that conversation. Weirdly enough, this very good movie could keep it going in ways its creator wouldn't like all that much.
Ender (Asa Butterfield), a darkly serious teenage boy, has been selected for an elite team of kid soldiers trained to do battle against a feared alien re-invasion. Fifty years ago, the "Formics" came to Earth looking for a new colony and, in the ensuing battle, millions of people died. Eventually beaten back to their home planet, the species remains silent. Are they coming back? Lying in wait for another chance to attack? Nobody knows. Time for a children's crusade.
Recruited, trained and manipulated by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford, giving more to a performance than he has in some time), Ender is a misfit even among his fellow trainees, the smartest children on the planet. But his loneliness and isolation go hand in hand with his ability to invest his strategies with deeper thought and wisdom. His internal conflict between compassion and violence grows alongside his tactical skills and increasing gracefulness as a fighter. He trains on video game-like simulations, sometimes in zero gravity, and as the film focuses on the process of Ender's discovery of his own power, the beautifully shot sequences communicate without words the war building inside him.
Directed by Gavin Hood with a heavy emphasis on the sleek hardware beauty of Ender's training station and the somber quality that After Earth aimed for and missed, this is a story of paradox. When you wage war, who really wins? When you develop your senses for battle, do you also develop greater sensitivity to the lives of the ones you're battling? Can you love your enemies and try to destroy them at the same time? This isn't the kind of stuff laserblasty-starfighter films give even passing lip-service. You risk losing the gung-ho-hoo-rah you've spent time building and, with it, your audience's gut-level investment. Good and evil are black and white and bad guys get destroyed. Ask for more from your target market and you're asking for trouble.
But Ender's Game can't keep itself from rational thought, which is always gray. It weighs facts against feelings. It's reluctant to slaughter a perceived enemy. And that's the part of his creation that Card will never be able to dismantle. Today may find him battling against perceived enemies, his own fellow human beings, but this earlier work contains ideas about true humanity more powerful than any hateful words he can spew. And now it's a movie, a well-made, smart, exciting, deeply entertaining and thoughtful movie, guaranteed to reach more people than any bizarre editorial he could pen for any right-wing website. And when the future comes, maybe he'll re-learn the lessons he used to know.
STAR RATING: 4/5