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'Ender's Game' movie empowers kids, but not the way parents might hope

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(Read caption) 'Ender's Game:' Asa Butterfield (l.) and Abigail Breslin star in the movie version of Orson Scott Card's 1985 science-fiction novel, 'Ender's Game.'

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The movie 'Ender’s Game' may delight tweens, but parents are bound to cringe at the concept of encouraging ruthlessness and brutality in young children via a video game-like platform motif.

The books and film trade on the nature vs. nurture idea that children are born with an innate instinct for the kill, which we as parents work hard to educate out of them and Card’s adult characters capitalize on to weaponize kids into virtual soldiers.

However, the book and film twist the Old Testament quote of Isaiah 11:6: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.” The actual quote means a child will lead the animals in a harmonious way, not a child being chosen to lead adults in war and slaughter.

Empowering kids to succeed where adults fail is a staple that stretches from 'The Chronicles of Narnia' to 'The Hunger Games.' However, Card takes it to an extreme that kids find more thrilling by making the boy Spock-like in his rapid calculations and immovable, impersonal, battle decisions.

Add to that the setting of a futuristic world where (in the book) an epic hybrid six-year-old savior/lethal weapon destroys legions with a sweep of his arm across a virtual reality screen the size of a drive-in movie screen and Card wins the kid game despite parental misgivings.

I know of the character Ender Wiggins from having read the 1985 science-fiction novel by Orson Scott Card after one of my teenage sons recommended it to me.

The New York Times movie reviewer wrote of the main character, who ships off to battle school at age six in the novel but is presented as age 12 in the film, and the ugly scene “in which he methodically brutalizes a bully, kicking the other boy repeatedly, including in the face.”

In the book Ender explains his actions saying, “’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... And then, in that very moment when I love them-..... I destroy them. I make it impossible for them to ever hurt me again. I grind them and grind them until they don’t exist.’”

While I want my sons to be empowered and feel as if they could save the world if called upon to do so, the concept of purging their compassion is a game ender.


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