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Ender's Game

Ender's Game (2013) Movie Poster
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  •  USA  •    •  114m  •    •  Directed by: Gavin Hood.  •  Starring: Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, Aramis Knight, Suraj Partha, Moises Arias, Khylin Rhambo, Jimmy 'Jax' Pinchak, Nonso Anozie, Conor Carroll.  •  Music by: Steve Jablonsky.
       The Earth was ravaged by the Formics, an alien race seemingly determined to destroy humanity. Seventy years later, the people of Earth remain banded together to prevent their own annihilation from this technologically superior alien species. Ender Wiggin, a quiet but brilliant boy, may become the savior of the human race. He is separated from his beloved sister and his terrifying brother and brought to battle school in orbit around earth. He will be tested and honed into an empathetic killer who begins to despise what he does as he learns to fight in hopes of saving Earth and his family.

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"Wars cannot be good or glorious. Nor can they be justified as a means of achieving peace or anything else of value. The reasons given for wars, before, during, and after them, are always false." - David Swanson

"Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them." - Orwell

Author Orson Scott Card released "Ender's Game" in 1985. The book finds Earth at war with a race of insectoid aliens. Desperate for survival, humanity grooms a troupe of children for leadership and combat. These children, best of whom is a kid called Ender Wiggins, take part in a highly specialised training programme designed to nurture aggression, intellect and adaptability. Later Ender annihilates the alien home-wold and afterwards feels a little guilty. The message: genocide is cool as hell but also very bad.

"Ender's Game" was immensely popular, but also received much criticism from other science fiction authors. Two of the more famous critiques were Elaine Radford's "Sympathy for the Superman" and John Kessel's "Creating the Innocent Killer: Intention and Morality". Both papers are available online, and both essentially accuse the book of engaging in the Nuremberg Defence. That is, Ender is essentially a mass murderer who plays the victim card, claims that his actions are "not his fault" and who insists that he was "just following orders". Card, according to Kessel, would have us believe that morality is based on intention, that the ends justify the means, and that the rightness or wrongness of an act depends on the actor's motives, not the act itself or even the result.

To sell Ender's genocide (or xenocide), Card thus has to engage in a number of cheats. Ender, for example, has to be portrayed as a cute kid, an innocent underdog who is perpetually abused by others. This makes Ender's triumphs all the more sweet (and allows us to partake in guilt free vengeance). Every dubious action Ender commits, like the killing of a classmate and the wiping out of aliens, then has to be "unknown to Ender". He, for example, was unaware that a classmate he attacked died (and it wasn't "his fault" anyway) and was unaware that his genocide was "real" and not a mere computer simulation. Ender's hands are thus clean. His murders are always unintentional and not his fault. The convenient result is a character who exterminates an entire race and yet remains fundamentally innocent.

In Card's defence, his novel (or sequels) actually wrestles with Ender's guilt and engages with the way in which armies manipulate soldiers, keep them blind and essentially turn them into insidious tools through the withholding of facts. And what makes Card's book creepy is that he uses on his readers the very same double-speak and manipulation which governments and armies routinely use on populaces. Card's enemies are demonized as "irrational, crazy, fanatical bugs", for example, and violence is seen to be "a necessary evil", a White Man's Burden which is admittedly horrible but must "nevertheless be undertaken". Likewise, wars -' which historically are never waged in defence or to stop some "future atrocity" - are sold by Card as being "necessary to prevent mankind's annihilation". The decks are stacked, then, for the reader to accept Ender as somewhat innocent.

The funny thing about Card, though, is that he is no longer viewed as a "sophisticated writer", but a fanatical nut-case. This has prompted many to reassess "Game" as being covertly fascist rather than ironicsophisticated. Indeed, today Card is a raving homophobe (he thinks gays are the products of accidents, choice and molestation), closet racist, fundamentalist Mormon, hater of legalised gay marriage (the old "slippery slope" argument: legalising gay marriage leads to polygamy, bestiality and the collapse of civilisation!) and believer in "liberal conspiracies which are ruining society". The constant naked, sexualised kids, child erotica, homo-erotica and sadism in Card's novels, as well as their religious preaching, are likewise now increasingly viewed as being creepy. Most Card books feature some form of child abuse, rape and view kids as being as pure or as smartmaturewilling as adults, leading some to view Card himself as an abuse victim or shame-filled, in-the-closet homosexual or worse. In the space of a decade, "Ender's Game" has thus gone (unfairly?) from cool space opera to Mein Kampf. Its Nazi-like themes of eugenics, genocide and perpetual war are no longer viewed as being presented for condemnation or satire, but "necessary evils".

"Ender's Game" was directed by Gavin Hood, whose previous films ("Wolverine", "Rendition") likewise dealt with military pawns questioning their indoctrination and complicity. The film replicates all the contradictions of its novel, at once salivating over psychopathy and condemning it. The film contains a number of exciting, unique, brilliantly directed sequences, two involving a zero-gravity game, the third involving an attack on an alien planet. Elsewhere it contains yet another ridiculous Ben Kingsley roleaccent, and a number of logic holes (why train kids? Why does their training consist merely of zero gravity laser tag?), the biggest being the notion that genius kids wouldn't see through lies and reach a moral decision long before joining the military (Ender KNEW he would have to annihilate the aliens). Unlike most of Hood's previous films, which are aesthetically incompetent, "Game" is slick, immaculately composed and scored.

The film continues a contemporary trend of feminizing war. Here we see cute kids playing war games (and girls and Arabs and other minorities; war: now progressive!) behind terminals, echoing the US military's shift to unmanned vehicles, remote weapons and drones. Author Corey Mead would document this shift in his book "War Play". Indeed, the military industrial complex has always been intertwined with the video game industry; in the 1980s, when it was found that soldiers wouldn't aim for the head during combat, video games were used to train them to instinctively go for head-shots.


Review by tieman64 from the Internet Movie Database.

 

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