Ender’s Game is one of my all-time favorite books, so it was with some great anticipation that I looked forward to the release of the film. Here, we shall investigate some of the major themes that the film adaptation brings up in its portrayal of this epic science fiction novel. There will be MAJOR SPOILERS for the film in what follows.
Children and Violence
The first and most pervasive feature throughout the film is that of the boundaries crossed when placing children in situations which they should be protected from. It is much like the Hunger Games [I want to clarify: Ender’s Game was written long before Hunger Games and so any connections flow from Card to Collins!] in this regard, though Orson Scott Card’s book and the film take it much deeper.
The first and perhaps most poignant example of this is found early in the film, when Ender thinks he has been washed out from the possibility of command and so he no longer has the protection of adults monitoring him to make sure he is safe. He is approached by a group of bullies, but he uses his strong tactical sense to shame them into fighting him one-on-one. Then, he ruthlessly beats down one of the larger boys and continues kicking him while he is down. He does this, he explains later, because he wanted to make it so that his enemy could never come back and hurt him again. The key, for Ender, is to ensure not just that the enemy is unable to fight back now, but that they will be unable to do so ever. This survival instinct leads Colonel Graff to believe that Ender is right for battle school. But it leaves the viewer wondering about justice.
Elsewhere, the film deals rather pointedly with bullying. Ender continues to be alienated by his fellow students and they react with two common bullying tactics: they ostracize him and eventually, one tries to physically harm him. One scene shows how one can break the grip of bullying: by simply reaching out to the one who is bullied. The camera shifts to a top-down view and shows as one-by-one, students begin to sit next to Ender and abandon the bully. If we teach our youths to do the same: to reach out to understand instead of to conform to the pattern of the world and ignore the downtrodden, we could make steady strides against bullying.
The scenes of violence involving the children also do something that very few scenes of violence with adults are able to convey: the complete horror that is involved in such activities. One cannot help but be gripped by sorrow when one sees children reacting violently to each other. Very often, movies are unable to capture the wrongness of violence. I do not think it is far afield to suggest that blockbusters are even worse at doing so. One can imagine the amount of collateral damage wrought in a movie like “The Avengers,” yet the heroes are glorified and the violence justified by the end. “Ender’s Game” incredibly portrays the real awfulness of violence of human against human, and even of human against environment or nature. It is raw, powerful, and gut-wrenching.
The viewer wonders throughout the entire film whether the cost is too high. Colonel Graff and Major Anderson engage in a brief dialogue on the question late in the story. Anderson notes that using children used to be a war crime, but Graff counters by arguing that humanity must do what they have to in order to ensure survival. In a way, his reasoning takes Ender as a foil. Both he and Ender agree upon the notion that the ends may justify the means.
However, the film doesn’t end with that message. Instead, Ender is forced to confront the reality that he has been used–lied to–in order to bring about the utter extinction of an entire alien sentient race. When faced with this truth, he reacts with extreme remorse and anger. Graff tries to reason with Ender, suggesting once more that they struck the enemy in such a way so as the enemy might never strike them back. But Ender suddenly realizes–with horror–that this is insufficient reason to justify his wiping out an entire species. He reacts angrily and is eventually sedated. The viewer is left to reflect upon the sheer enormity of what has happened. An entire sentient race has been extinguished by the activity of a child who was deceived into thinking he was merely playing games.
The child realizes it is horrible; the adults are the ones rejoicing.
From Death, Life: From Xenocide, Hope
I’ve already pointed out the way “Ender’s Game” depicts violence in such a way as to prevent it from being gloried. I’ll admit I was unsure of how I would react to the big reveal towards the end, when Ender discovers that he has been fooled into exterminating the “Buggers” [Formics–the alien race]. I wasn’t sure if the movie would depict it in such a way as to make the audience cheer and delight in the destruction of the enemy. However, I was totally blown away by the way it showed the scene. I couldn’t but be horrified when Ender turned to Graff and the other commanders of Earth’s military and said triumphantly, “Game Over.” I knew the twist that was coming, and that perhaps made it even more horrifying to me. Ender thought he was playing games, but those in charge knew he was not and cheer gleefully in the complete annihilation of a species which wasn’t even acting the aggressor any longer.
That alone would be an incredibly powerful message to leave viewers with, but Orson Scott Card did not write a book[and, by extension, the movie it spawned] that merely shows the horrors of such violence. Instead, the seeds of hope are scattered therein. The very end of the film shows the birth of life from death. One of the “Bugger” Queens has survived, and one egg for a new queen has been preserved. The Buggers had been trying to communicate with Ender, and they succeeded in getting him to find their last hope for preservation. Ender realizes almost immediately what he should do: take the egg to a place it will be safe. The film ends with Ender’s voice echoing the future story: that he would seek out a new home for the Buggers so that they could begin life anew.
“Ender’s Game” is a fantastic film. It is one with powerful messages for today. Yes, it has the moral message against bullying, and people who walk away only with that will have done well. But more deeply–and more powerfully because of this–it also shows the absolute horrors of violence. Harming others is not in any way glorified in this film. Ender realizes the wrongness of his own actions too late. Yet viewers are not spoon-fed this message. Indeed, the story begs to be debated. Do the ends justify the means in this case? Or perhaps Ender is right–understnading is more important. The themes provide much for anyone who watches the film to discuss.
Yet the most powerful message is saved for the very end: Life comes from death. It is brought about by an outsider, using means which could not have been predicted. And that is the most powerful and true message of all. It is a message which Christianity teaches: hope comes from the most hopeless situation, and it comes from the least expected direction, provided by God.
“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card: A Christian Reflection– I analyze a number of themes from the classic science fiction novel. It is extremely important to look into the
The Importance of Being Ender: A Closer Look at Orson Scott Card’s Modern Classic– Check out this look at the book by Anthony Weber at one of my favorite blogs, “Empires and Mangers.” It is well worth the read and also ha some very interesting links for more discussion of the book.
You liked Ender’s Game? Check out John Carter.
The Image is one of the official movie posters. I claim no rights to it.
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“To Save a Life” is a Christian movie (I imagine some fleeing already, but read the full review!) about some tough issues: teen suicide, self-harm, bullying, and more (no spoilers) come up in this film.
The movie starts with Jake Taylor attending the funeral of a friend from his younger years–a friend with whom he has lost touch. The friend committed suicide, and this leads Jake to seek answers to a number of questions and “Could I have done something?” is paramount among them.
The movie also explores the themes of faith as Jake interacts with a youth pastor while exploring questions about Christianity.
What makes this movie resonate with me is how accurately it portrays a number of aspects of teenage life. I’m very serious here. I knew people like Jake and his friends, and I also knew people who resembled those in the youth group scenes. The movie doesn’t hold punches, there are teens out to sleep with as many people as possible, there are those who have left the faith and are hostile to any mention of it, there is a persistent caricature of Christian belief which the teenagers think they have figured out, even within the Christian youth group there are “pretenders”–only there because they have to be (or want to hang out with friends).
The issues the film covers are, as mentioned, not easy. Teen suicide, cutting/self-harm, and the like are all portrayed. There are answers found, but they are not easy. They provide challenges to viewers to step out of their comfort zone and realize there are more important things in life than the mundane. Viewers will reflect on the movie for some time afterwards, wondering what it is that I should or could be doing.
Now, I mentioned before it is a Christian movie. Often, unfortunately, this means the acting is terrible. Not so with “To Save a Life.” I was engrossed in the film from the first minute. Jake (played by Randy Wayne) is perfectly cast. He poignantly portrays a troubled teenager reaching out for answers. The acting is not overdone. In scenes in which people are fighting, it is realistically uncomfortable; it feels too real. Watchers will have to fight not to pick out people they knew in the characters throughout the film. And this leads me to my next point:
It was stunning to me to watch the movie and realize how close I have been to being any number of these people. I was very close to being a youth who left the faith because of unanswered questions. I thank God that He provided people with answers around me–and people who were willing to say they didn’t know the answers, and point me in a direction to find them.
I watched the movie with my parents this week. My dad is a pastor and he wanted me to evaluate it for its use in a youth group setting. I can say that without a doubt I think this movie should be viewed by youth groups, but it should also be watched by concerned parents with their children. It will provide a springboard for discussion on some difficult issues.
I very highly recommend “To Save a Life.” It will resonate with some viewers in ways that simple lectures or discussions cannot. It presents a strong Christian message, calling youths to strengthen their faith and be willing to reach out to those who are hurting–a message we would do well to take to heart in a hurting world.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.