Enders Game

Fans of Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” have been waiting for decades to see Ender Wiggin on the big screen. The wait is over, and it’s safe to say that director Gavin Hood, actor Asa Butterfield, the support casting and the special effects team all churned out a product that Master Sun Tzu would be proud of.

‘The Art of War’ states:

“So it is said that if you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know others and do know know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” — Master Sun, ‘The Art of War’

Ender Wiggin states:

“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. I make it impossible for them to ever hurt me again.”

The idea that you should try and fully understand — and even love — your enemy is incredibly profound. The vast majority of people go through life spewing anger and vitriol at their political foes and battlefield opponents without considering the strategic implications that being a slave to hate entails. Instead of understanding enemies as complex spiritual beings worthy of the time and attention it takes to form an empathic connection, most people mentally coat them in a caricature, which makes attacking with blind rage easier. Ender Wiggin, however, is a complex young character who is tasked with saving the human race from an alien species of bug-like creatures — and thankfully (whether intentionally or not), Orson Scott Card imbued him with the characteristics of a master strategist, as spelled out in ‘The Art of War.’

Enders Game Asa Butterfield

Besides Ender’s desire to know his enemy, he is also a true leader:

“Leadership is a matter of intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage and sternness.” — Master Sun, ‘The Art of War’

What makes ‘Ender’s Game’ such a fun movie to watch is Asa Butterfield’s performance. Audiences must buy that this kid is a brilliant tactician, who is both compassionate and ruthless when necessary. He had to be vulnerable, but in charge. He had to show weakness that belied his inner strength. In short, he had to give an incredibly nuanced performance — and he pulled it off.

Asa Butterfield Enders Game

The problem with reviewing ‘Ender’s Game’ is that it’s so rich and layered with social commentary that one doesn’t know where to begin. The use of drones? Preemptive war? Military recruitment of children? Genocide? It’s all there. In some ways, ‘Ender’s Game’ might be too smart for its own good; people who flock to the theater just expecting to see lots of things explode in space will be disappointed. The movie brought in $27 million its opening weekend domestically, but it’s going to have a hard time making up its $110 million budget. Hopefully, word of mouth will give it enough legs to accomplish that goal.

If you’re looking for an intelligent science-fiction movie that was spawned from source material decades ahead of its time, see ‘Ender’s Game.’ If you’re looking for so-stupid-it’s-funny, then find some of the negative reviews of the movie. Some critics are so enraged over Mr. Card’s politics — that have nothing to do with ‘Ender’s Game — that they’re incapable of giving it a fair shake.  I guess the whole part about loving your enemies went over their head…

If you go to the movies next weekend and Thor 2 is sold out, don’t head home. Check out ‘Ender’s Game,’ because it’s a fun and thought-provoking movie that is worth the price of admission. You might come for Harrison Ford, but you’ll stay for Asa Butterfield. Kudos to the young guy for a job well done.

Related: Check out Jeremy Jahn’s review.


  1. I love the book for all the reasons you mentioned. It and its sequel, Speaker for the Dead, are the only two sci-fi novels by the same author to win back-to-back Hugo Awards (1985 and 1986). Not sure when I’ll see the movie, though. Thought about it over the weekend, but was busy with other things.

    I’m glad that it’s done well at the box office, and hope it continues to do so, in spite of the anti-Card idiots’ incessant whining over the past nine months (which started with the whole Superman “controversy”). His politics have nothing to do with the book.

    1. This weekend is Thor 2, so it’s going to get knocked out of the top spot. Hopefully, the drop off isn’t too huge.

      I thought ‘Ender’s Game’ was a very respectable film. My wife and I were pleasantly surprised.

      In regards to the controversy: Are those who are boycotting the film also boycotting anything the president does? He was against gay marriage right up until a few months before the election… How convenient.

      But yes, it would take some amazing mental gymnastics to find an anti-gay marriage theme in ‘Ender’s Game.’ 😉

  2. I haven’t read Ender’s Game but a friend of mine is a big fan really changed his outlook on life. I have always liked The Art Of War and if there is this message of knowing even loving your enemies well its not as mindless as much popcorn fare.

    1. A friend of mine said yesterday that ‘Ender’s Game’ really affected him as a kid. He noted that and Heinlein’s ‘Starship Troopers’. These days I read mostly non-fiction, but if I get around to it down the road I’ll probably hit up both books.

  3. I’m just going to repost and reedit the comment I made over at John C Wright’s blog. (btw, you should check him out more if you don’t)

    I’m still not sure what I thought of it. If it wasn’t for osc’s latest kerfuffle the left would have loved this movie. Kids being deceived into war after a single attack? The W. Bush imagery practically writes itself.

    Seems a lot of this movie had a problem with choosing its theme. Can anyone else tell me what the movie was “about”? Every time I thought the story was settling on a specific theme, it would suddenly shift and be “about” something else. Which works fine in a novel where you have more room for examination and transition between themes, I think it was to the detriment of the movie.

    Spot on about the actors though, they were all quite good.

    Although with this and hunger games (saw a trailer for catching fire) anyone else finding it interesting that we’re doing all these stories recently about Society mistreating its children.

    1. The theme for me was “leadership.” What is leadership? How do you attain it? How does it affect a man? Whether it was Ender, the officers above him, or his peers … everyone was trying to figure that out.

      I liked that all the other themes were there, but you weren’t told what to think. They were just present enough to make you think about them, but you were pretty much left to come to your own conclusions.

      I understand where you’re coming from, but I’m going to cut the producers slack in this case. Given the depth and breadth of the source material, I think the struck a pretty good balance.

    2. Good points there, Doug. I doubt the anti-Card lunatics ever stopped to consider that. Obama was formerly against gay “marriage” before he was for it… all of a sudden before the election last year he changed his tune. He also said that you could keep your doctor and insurance…. but anyone with intelligence knew that was a lie from the beginning.

      The book is pretty much the same way, thematically. Leadership was the main theme to me as well. Plus there are themes of war, child soldiers, and the such… but it lets you think on your own. In the special edition of the book (which I own) Card mentions how Ender’s Game did cause controversy back when it was written due to the mature themes and how he got letters from teachers about how “kids don’t talk like that” and “kids don’t do that stuff.” At the same time, he also got letters from military personnel who really enjoyed the book and on some bases it’s required reading.

  4. I enjoyed the movie very much. I think some could have taken an anti-military message from it and found myself being maybe more sympathetic to Colonel Graff than the filmmakers intended. But I think what the move has to say about leadership and how to fight battles in the present to win future battles was great.

    I enjoyed the movie enough that I picked up the book.

  5. Speaking of Sun Tzu, hey Doug, how’s it feel to know that The Dems used the tactics of ‘divide and conquer’ against you folks in Virginia in order to win the governorship?

    1. McAuliffe outspent Cuccinelli by millions, and the net result was that gullible single-issue female voters thought he wanted to steal their uterus. All the important things going on, and McAuliffe made it about that dumb crap. And it worked. I guess Democrats only care about big money in politics when it threatens their guy…

      The Republican party abandoned Cuccinelli because those dolts thought he’d lose by double digits. Again, self-fulfilling prophecy when it comes to losing. They allowed an ultimate scum bag to beat a good man to a pulp via a disinformation campaign, and now they’ll somehow twist it into the right decision not to spend any money. Unreal.

      And the libertarian candidate? He was bankrolled by a huge Obama supporter. He wasn’t even a real libertarian. But idiots voted for him. The dude said he doesn’t believe in Austrian economics. What? I’ve NEVER met a libertarian who shunned free market economics. The dude was a Democrat. Sigh.

      Finally, I’m sick of idiots who move to Northern Virginia because Maryland is a dump…and then vote the same way they did in Maryland. I’m feel like I’m living in Crazy Town. I’m buying my own island one day and these people can keep their insanity.

    2. So, I’m assuming my little tid-bit about eating the Classical Libertarians if we Classical Cons get things back in order has taken a whole new possibility for you?

    3. I can’t say that eating anyone, literally or figuratively, is on my agenda. The vast majority of libertarians have more in common with conservatives than anyone on the left side of the fence. The problem is that people have brain atrophy. It’s been encouraged over the decades by people in power who know they can’t take advantage of a well-informed population. It takes a lot of work to get that muscle going again once it’s stopped. Hopefully, this blog encourages visitors to do some research on their own and exercise their mind.

    4. “I feel like I live in Crazy Town.”

      Me, too, Doug. Me too. Here in Minnesota we have idiots who vote for idiots as well. They’ve elected a member of the Nation of Islam to Congress (Ellison), a woman whose father was a newspaper reporter and a drunk (Klobuchar) to Senate, an unfunny “comedian” who didn’t even live in Minnesota until a few years before he was elected (Franken) and to the governor’s office they’ve elected a total mental case and former Senator who has never had to work a single day in his life (Dayton). Among others.

    5. When I worked at Heritage I actually saw Franken walking down the street one day. It was surreal. First I thought, “Holy cow, that guy is short.” And then I thought, “I can’t believe Al Franken is a U.S. senator…”

      Completely unrelated side note: I once saw Jerry Springer walking down the street in Chicago during the winter. I said to my friend, “Is that Jerry Springer?” Everyone around us heard me, they looked, and then started calling Jerry’s name. He got flustered, put his coat over his face, and started running away. I felt like such a jerk…but it still makes me laugh to this day.

    6. LOL. When I was in New York back in 2007, I’m pretty sure I saw Meg Ryan out walking her dog.

      And yeah, I can’t believe that Franken is a Senator, either. He’s up for re-election next year, but I have no doubt that the same idiots who voted him in will re-elect him. After the past election, I have very little faith in my fellow Minnesotans… to the point that I’ve actually considered moving out of this state someday.

    1. I’d agree. Plot? Not much. Visually striking, and there was enough other interesting going on that it made for a fun Friday night at the theater. It didn’t drop the ball as we move towards the second Avengers flick, so that’s another plus.

      I was bouncing all around, and I also agree with their analysis of Harrison Ford’s acting…

  6. Boring book, boring movie; my feeling on the whole Card matter is that he can’t write a good page-turner, I’ve tried his stories before and they were all mind-numbingly dull. I’ve tried using them as stories to read before going to bed, but they just wind me up instead of lulling me to sleep.

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