ENDER’S GAME. Science fiction focused on emotions, not action

“Ender’s Game” – one of the most important science fiction novels of the past century – has received its adaptation.

Jakub Piwoński

9 February 2024

ender's game

Fantastic cinema loves to draw on the messianic motif. How many chosen ones have we already met, those unique individuals who could stand against evil on their own and defend humanity? Klaatu, John Connor, Neo, Frodo, Aslan, or Superman – the common characteristic of these heroes is their awareness of their own uniqueness and their ability to make the highest sacrifices. We trusted them boundlessly, following their lead as we experienced each fantastic story. Now, a new martyr enters the stage. But don’t let appearances deceive you; his young age and modest demeanor certainly do not indicate weakness. The rules of the game have changed, and from now on, Ender establishes them.

The story of the chosen one’s mission remains universally unchanged. Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is an extraordinary boy. His mental predispositions surpass those of his peers, as well as children older than him. He enters an elite military school. Only exceptional individuals are admitted due to the importance of the mission entrusted there. The young cadets are trained to become special soldiers who will have to fight against Earth’s ancient enemies – the alien insectoid race called Formics – in the near future. Ender’s task, as a born leader, will be to lead his charges to victory.

ender's game

The author of Ender’s fate is the science fiction writer, Orson Scott Card. His “Ender’s Game” from 1985, along with two subsequent novels in the series written in later years, are now considered classics of science fiction literature. These titles are absolutely unique, enjoying a large fan base and standing alongside Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” at the forefront of the subgenre known as military science fiction. Therefore, it’s no wonder that the big players from the dream factory finally took notice of Scott Card’s work. Although the adaptation has been trimmed of several important parts of the novel (Ender’s childhood and his sibling subplot), its backbone has been preserved. What is important, however, is that the director in charge of the project, Gavin Hood (Oscar-winning “Tsotsi”), managed to capture the spirit of the novel.

The most important emphasis, following the book’s original, is placed on character psychology and moral dilemmas. Because there is no shortage of those in “Ender’s Game.” Is it acceptable to exploit the hidden potential in children to train them as perfect killers? Can a deadly attack be launched against an enemy before they even specify their intentions towards us? The answers to such questions remain highly relative; it’s difficult to take a clear stance. Ender’s character is equally ambiguous, ambivalent, something the character himself struggles to cope with. The inner turmoil of ethical nature within him contrasts with his deeply hidden propensity for violence. So what determines that he turns out to be the ideal candidate for a leader? His strength lies in highly developed empathy – a trait that enables him, like no other, to understand the enemy’s motivation and anticipate their next move. Ender, as the new Messiah, thus becomes a walking testament to the inner potential of the human psyche, the skillful utilization of which can alter the course of history.

Responsible for embodying this is Asa Butterfield, brilliantly portraying the titular character in the film. The psychological weight of this story rests on Ender’s character, making this role a significant challenge for the lead actor. However, Butterfield managed his assigned task excellently. His Ender is exactly as he should be, as we know him from the pages of the novel, with charisma standing out as his leading characteristic. The young actor didn’t need to overly manipulate his expressions to make the audience believe in the unquestioned leader position his character will hold. He deserves congratulations for his talent, and the casting experts for their precise choice. The supporting cast is equally convincing. Hailee Steinfeld and Abigail Breslin, although their roles weren’t very demanding, confirmed their stable position in the world of young actors. Meanwhile, the seasoned veterans, Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley, while reprising roles we’ve seen them play before – a bitter cynic and an unpolished eccentric, respectively – still make it a pleasure to watch them.

ender's game

What’s also exceptional about the adaptation of “Ender’s Game” is its form. In its style, I noticed inspiration drawn from the popular game “Mass Effect,” which I do not formulate as a criticism; on the contrary, the execution of costumes and set design is based on a proven idea thanks to it. (By the way, there are many grounds to treat the film adaptation of “Ender’s Game” as a tribute to computer games and the role they play in the development of individuals, as it is thanks to them that the technologically savvy generation of intelligent children can contemplate saving humanity…) Those disappointed may be those who, when going to see “Ender’s Game,” thought they were buying a ticket to another sci-fi spectacle filled to the brim with action. The film cannot boast a large number of such scenes because the action was constructed to best convey the emotional dimension of the story. However, all these scenes, focused on visual effect – such as training conducted in zero gravity – make a sufficiently strong impression. Contrary to appearances, this digital restraint contributes to the strength of this spectacle because it sets slightly more ambitious cognitive priorities for the viewer from the outset.

“Ender’s Game” – one of the most important science fiction novels of the past century – has finally received its adaptation. And although it is based on a myth that has already been processed through popular culture many times, with varying degrees of success, it evidently still holds sufficient impact. The message formulated within it is so universally relevant that its significance cannot be questioned. So go ahead and let yourselves be carried away by another story of the chosen one, fighting a lonely battle against the evil threatening our world. Because if it is adequately motivated, true heroism is hard to come by.

Jakub Piwoński

Jakub Piwoński

Cultural expert, passionate about popular culture, in particular films, series, computer games and comics. He likes to fly away to unknown, fantastic regions, thanks to his fascination with science fiction. Professionally, however, he looks back more often, thanks to his work as a museum promotion specialist, investigating the mysteries of the beginnings of cinematography. His favorite film is "The Matrix", because it combines two areas close to his heart - religion and martial arts.

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