2 Stars – Troubling
The morality explored in Gavin Hood’s science fiction rests on two foundational questions: Is it moral to turn children into soldiers? Is it moral to commit genocide to protect your own people? The answers to both of these questions are that they are clearly immoral. But it is the nature of science fiction to shift these questions away from our familiar categories here on earth and take us far away to a planet where the species being killed resembles locusts. And in a similar way, the children/soldiers who are fighting them are geniuses capable of using the new technology required for the war. Thus the question of the survival of “us” at the destruction of “them” necessitates that child-soldiers are manipulated by adults to accomplish their genocidal plans.
The central character of this morality play is Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield). Ender is the youngest child of a family committed to fighting against a species that invaded Earth fifty years earlier. Overwhelmed by the swarm that attacked them, earth’s resources have become focused on finding a teen whose instinct it is to not only fight but also to crush their opponent so they can’t ever fight again. Ender fits this description.
However, Ender also has compassion. Recognizing that to defeat his enemy he must know him well, he discovers that when he knows his enemy he also loves him. Ender expresses his concern about himself as he says: “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. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them…I destroy them.” The fact that he can love his enemy and yet also destroy him creates a deep pathos within himself and within the film. Although the film attempts to resolve it in the end, it is woefully incomplete.
The teaching of Jesus that expresses the most difficult and foundational aspect of morality is that we are to love our enemy. But if love is only a knowledge of them and an emotional response to them but we still destroy them, then love is only a word for something internal to our own survival rather than an actual concern for the well-being of the other. The love Jesus described is a self-sacrificing behavior that is willing to lay down our own lives for the other because in fact there is more to life than survival and more to humanity than victory.
Although science fiction poses that there may be enemies in the stars around us, we know for certain that there are those who make themselves our enemies here on earth. The questions that Ender’s Game explores are ones we must answer with a morality that transcends our current thinking. It is films like this that may help us identify the questions but not the way to get there.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. When military commanders enlist children to fight their wars, they do so in part because they can be manipulated. At what age do you think a person is able to participate in war as an adult and make his or her own moral choices? Why do you answer as you do?
2. It is difficult to understand the nature of evil that is willing to wipe out a whole race or species. Where do you believe such evil originates, within the human heart or is it external to humanity?
3. SPOILER – When Ender is manipulated into genocide and only then realizes that the enemy had attempted to communicate with him in his video game, he sets out to save the lives of the few members of the species that exist. Do you find this attempt satisfying or too small?