First off - If you haven't read Ender's Game, do so. Second, after doing so, go see the movie. If you've done neither of those, probably don't read this.
Me writing about Ender is nothing new per se, but in some ways it is, so here we go again. Ender. Ender's Game. If you've forgotten the past, feel free to refresh yourself. This and this are my most important writings to date on Ender.
Ender and I have been an experience and journey like no other. Years we've been on this road, and now the movie adds a new layer to that. I -against all trepidations about doing so- went and saw it. I will note here (this could easily spiral out of control into its own rant-y diatribe, so I will not let it) my extreme dislike of Card as a person for his personal agenda/beliefs. His homophobia is rampant and very problematic. However, I must say that Ender is still one of the characters that hits closest to home for me -deeply, wholly, on ALL levels of who I am- and so I cannot discount that. He and his experience are incredibly sacred and valuable to me, even if his creator is less-than-ideal in my eyes. I finally figured out WHY Ender is so important to me, and why I feel so strongly about/for him. It's because I relate to him on a deeper level than anything I have ever experience with another human being. I may never relate this completely to anyone in real life. But with Ender I do. Asher Lev is the same way. The bond goes beyond the surface and takes it to something visceral, something I feel with every iota.
That said, this is about the movie adaptation of Ender's Game. The next piece of my journey with Ender. As stated, I was very nervous to see this. I have been less-than-impressed with quite a few book-to-movie adaptations in recent months. Most notably Hunger Games whose rant I don't ever seem to have finished (though I could have sworn I did...)
But the movie was not the let-down I was praying it would not be. Phew. Indeed, it plummeted me back to the same space that made me so agitated I had to pen my thoughts on the vomit bag in an airplane because I had nothing else, and it needed out of me. Tonight I was to attend the farewell party of a friend moving to Ghana. I stopped by and said hello, and then exited myself to the side politely. I told a few people what was up. I am in that space. Ender does this me. Whether Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow or, now, the movie - I am driven by something in my soul to put words on paper and make sense of these thoughts and emotions swirling inside me, pulling and pushing in so many different directions.
I liked the movie way more than I was expecting to, which I was glad for. I must say, up front, that had I not read the book my experience and understanding of the movie would have been totally different. I touched on this sort of bias/expectations previously in my post on Ender's Game the book. Without book knowledge, much of the movie would have been confusing, or dare I say shallow. Hollywood uses sweeping brush strokes that gloss over the nuances and depths that make books the better half. skipped SO SO SO much in the movie. Like Peter, for example. He was in the movie 1 scene. Maybe a minute of screen time. But he's such a pivotal part of who Ender is and how he got that way. Same with Valentine, though she appeared a little more. The book greatly enhanced my viewing experience because I had the background, I had the knowledge that related to these characters and who they were that wasn't going to make the movie's final cut. I have to say one of my biggest complaints about the movie was the fabricated love story between Petra and Ender. She's the one girl in battle school with a name, and let's have her head-over-heels in love for Ender in the movie. That's not how I remember the book. Kind of lame. I also didn't like the portrayal of Bean, which I feel is a pivotal, crucial, role... but that bothered me less than The Petra thing.
The movie did alot of things right. I feel like the movie in many aspects enhanced my experience of the book, and I was glad for that. Asa Butterfield was 100% the correct pick for Ender. Graff and Anderson were well cast also. The movie was almost 2 hours, but I think they did okay; especially if you come to the table with the book behind you. They missed A LOT, but I don't think 3 movies like the current Hobbit debacle would have been appropriate either. Asa did great as Ender and I felt for him many times. I cried in the movie, like I was hoping I would. That means they got it right. They connected to me in the right places, the right way. But I feel like they failed to convey the sense of aloneness and isolation that made Ender. Of just how incredibly stacked everything was against him, and how he would not be broken, even when he was completely, utterly, alone. So alone. I had that from the book though and mapped it onto the events on the screen, and it ended up okay. That's part of why the whole Petra thing was so annoying to me. The book made it clear that though he gained respect, Ender never really gained friends. That was a luxury he couldn't afford, and Graff made sure of it. I did find myself wishing that the book were a little fresher in my mind, but I was worried because I knew the movie is on its way out of theaters, and if I was going to see it, I needed it to be on the big screen. So it had to happen now. I just didn't have the time to revisit the book.
But the main message got across. I was absolutely bawling, yet acutely aware of my skewed viewing experience as Ender took his "graduation exam." With the book as my foundation, I was omniscient where he was not. I knew what was happening, even when he did not. The lives being lost, the ships being abandoned, I was crying, crying, crying. And then the moment came where he would be broken, and I sobbed along with him. "I just killed an entire species." The crushing, crushing weight of that genocide. They made you, Ender. They built you, and you fought, and you tried the best that you could with the knowledge you had been given. You won their war. At great, great cost. I actually really liked the ending of the movie. I remember the book ending with the Formic War, not him finding the queen, and vowing to find them a new home, but maybe that was in the book too. I really liked how it was executed in the movie.
It's so interesting to me how I have changed and grown and am in such a different place than I was when I wrote my previous Ender thoughts. Yet, deep down, I still resonate on such a level with Ender. I connect with him in a way that I cannot explain. Him and Asher Lev. I am not the broken, hopeless, totally alone, peaceless youth I once was. I have ended the largest, worst, most pervasive battle for peace I have ever fought. The one inside me, with my warring halves. I have reached the place where Asher Lev is free. I am there. But I remember. And I can still feel the past, even if it doesn't define me anymore.
I remember the pain, the loneliness, the fear, the empty. I have not forgotten and I will not. And thus I still feel Ender. Not just for him, but him. I feel Ender. I feel Asher. And this is part of what drives me to know that I am on the right track. I must write. I must create. I must share. This kind of human-ness on the page is so real, it's terrifying. I must try and do the same. I've talked about that before in my previous Ender posts. It's so real, it hurts. The movie got that. That's why I cried. Shaking, crying. I am looking in the mirror, and it hurts. He hurts. I hurt. We hurt. And yet still, even after all that... After 10,000 deaths Ender presses on. His humanity is played out perfectly in the movie. Graff curses him as Ender questions what they were waiting for, saying what you were going to do, start a dialog? Ender has stopped all future battles, but in doing so, has revealed humanity's own ugly nature. The nature that is instinctual in him, but that he is trying to distance himself from. The violence. Peter. I omitted some lines from my initial write-up from the throw-up bag. I don't know why now I chose to do so at the time. I wasn't hiding anything. I went back to the bag (of course I still have it) and revisited those cut lines and found one I regret not having included the first time:
Ender captures the notion [of decency], but there is no indication he ever achieves it. "I don't want to beat Peter." "Then what do you want?" "I want him to love me." All I want is for people to love me. So why does Ender play so perfectly to me? Because he is so human? Yet where is his redemption? The knowledge that he can bring back what he unwittingly obliterated?
An interesting emphasis on love that I previously omitted. This now coupled with the emphasis the movie gave from its very first seconds with the opening quote:
“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.” – A.E. Wiggin
I want to be loved so deeply that I am totally and wholly vulnerable to the point of someone being able to absolutely and completely destroy me. And yet, they do not or will not - for love overcomes the need to destroy. That is where true victory is achieved. This is what Ender boils down to for me when you strip everything away and leave only that single element. That level of love and understanding is something I have achieved with Ender and Asher. In reality, I love and I give of myself to gain that power over people. Some I regrettably have destroyed or attacked in moments of anger, rage, or discomfort. But others I cherish and protect and would give my life for in an instant. This force drives me at my core, surrounded by the loneliness of my past.
Ender's isolation and manipulation are severely undercut in the movie, and much of battle school is left out. I would have loved to have seen way more of the Battle Room. Not to mention the moral complexities that arise when using children to engage in war. That's barely even touched on at all. Also downplayed is what is intended in the book to be rife food-for-thought on the dynamics of empathy and vulnerability, and instead the movie offers us only the line I already mentioned where Ender confronts Graff, denouncing the "ends justify the means" methodology just used to win a war and commit genocide. Ender is now tasked with the stark reality that he has just annihilated an entire species of sentient beings -not to mention the lives he unknowingly sacrificed when he abandoned the majority of the fleet- who had just as much right to life as humans do.
I think though that when you consider how internal and inside-Ender-driven the plot is of the original book, many good things have come from this movie adaptation. It is worthy of its place, and I accept it as a fitting supplemental experience to my enjoyment of the book. I would not replace it, and I sure as hell hope this movie is not the attempted beginning of a franchise, but on its own, Ender's Game the movie is not as bad as I expected, and thus I came away pleasantly pleased.
It definitely dredged up all the questions I'd mulled on previously, and took me back to the place of balancing empathy and vulnerability without costing humanity, even if the movie did not explicitly do so. It was fulfilling to watch, and I appreciated being able to revisit the world of Ender, even if for me it comes addled with so much alienation and loneliness. But this, I think, in many ways allows Ender to be even more of a redemptive character, especially with the way the movie ending was framed. I appreciate Ender in new ways from my new point in life and perspective and am glad for him to have been such an impactful, insightful part of my journey toward better understanding myself, the human condition, and this crazy construct we call love.
In the end my desire, and Ender's, remain the same. No matter the bruises, bumps, or attacks, we seek only love. Even when the cost of giving that love is at great expense to ourselves, we will give. And give freely.
To recap, the movie is well done for the most part. If you accept it as a supplemental experience enhancing your view and understanding of the book, then it is well worth your time and money. So read the book. Then see the movie. And love. Love fiercely and wholly, even when everything is stacked against you or you feel alone beyond all reason.