Ender’s Game, by the numbers, is a studio’s worst nightmare: A big, expensive, intensely thoughtful film starring mostly children that doesn’t shy away from hard-to-talk-to-your-children-about subjects like managing conflicting internal thoughts, bullying, and even preemptive war crimes.
There’s more to Ender’s Game than can be discussed in this article given the events of the film. To put it lightly, Ender goes through much more than any pre-teen should ever have to experience, and that speaks to the underlying message at the core of the source material.
In order to maintain that same message, some actions in the film needed to remain unchanged for fear of neutering the meaning behind Orson Scott Card’s original brilliant novel.
“On the page, I was writing stuff that made them nervous,” said the film’s director, Gavin Hood, in an exclusive interview with Hypable. “There’s still so much fear because there was so much controversy about even making this film because of the ending.”
“The themes are so complex,” said Hood. “The main character isn’t ‘all good,’ in essence, all of the things I love about the goddamned movie, were the things that made the movie hard to get made because the conventional pattern is to have a good kid, the Karate Kid, who the bad kid hurts, and he goes to train until he can kick the bad kid’s ass. The notion of the kid who is actually too violent in the beginning is understandably terrifying for the studio.”
With the history of cinema taken into account, Hood is absolutely right. Ender is a character that is fueled by many things, but his tremendous capacity for compassion, as well as his equal but opposite capacity for real violence and aggression, is what singles him out in the eyes of the higher ups at the International Fleet, played by Harrison Ford and Viola Davis.
“Ender is a kid who is trying to find a way in a world where he is praised for violence,” said Hood. “He has an ego, he wants to win, and he likes to win.”
It’s this desire that is Ender’s most crucial character flaw, though there are many complex layers to the character that make him such an fascinating science fiction icon.
According to Hood, he knew Asa Butterfield from his work in Hugo, and when they called him in to audition for the part, there was no other option. He was Ender.
“I’m a huge fan of science fiction and a huge fan of the book as well,” said Butterfield during the same exclusive interview where he admitted that he would love to portray the son of another science fiction legend, Han Solo. “So for me, playing Ender and knowing that there’s already such a massive fan base for it, it was quite intimidating.
Like Hood, Butterfield wanted to do his best to hit as close to the chest as the classic 1985 novel, and the only way to do that was by not shying away from the complex source material.
“One of the things I wanted to do was do the book justice and please the already loyal fans of the story, as well as introduce millions of new people to the book and to the world of Ender,” said Butterfield. “There’s a lot to live up to.”
Butterfield is sixteen now, but he has the perspective of someone who has remained vigilantly informed of the world’s consistently barbaric status. Although the idea of a developed nation recruiting children for intergalactic warfare may seem brutal to most audiences, Butterfield reminds us that this sort of thing is still an international shame.
“Even in society today, there are a lot of places where children are given guns and are forced to kill people and it’s horrific,” said Butterfield.
According to both Hood and Butterfield, the key to including these intense thoughts in the film’s running time is to be sure that they didn’t tone down on the consequences of violence.
Hood had the task of walking a fine line with his producers about where to draw the line, and luckily for the integrity of the source material, he fought to keep his vision un-neutered.
“When you’re just looking at it on the page and you read ‘he kicks the crap out of Stilson,’ they say ‘Gavin what are you doing? This has got to get a PG-13 rating, and you’re putting violence, don’t you know what the issue of bullying is?’ And I say ‘Yeah I do, I’m going to speak to that issue.’ He knows that he goes too far and we couldn’t shy away from that.”
In fact, Hood says that it was this attention to the spirit of the story that attracted the mostly veteran cast to Ender’s Game. Instead of focusing on the flashy effects and the super-cool technology at hand, they were excited to be a part of a story that would arouse young and inquiring minds to finally ask the big questions.
According to Hood, the reason Harrison Ford agreed to join the cast was because it was exactly the kind of movie he could use to incite a conversation with his youngest son.
“With this in particular, people are going to get completely different things,” said Butterfield.
“Someone might go in and afterwards have a really important discussion about the different ways of leadership. That’s one of the reasons that it’s on the reading list for the military. Another person might go in and then talk to their child about bullying.”
Hood imagines the audience of Ender’s Game coming for the awesome science fiction space action, but staying for the complex political discourse. “I want young people to go to this movie, have fun, eat their popcorn, and watch big cool friggin’ images,” said Hood. “Then afterward, I want them to say to each other ‘Dude, what do you think about preemptive war?'”