“Ender’s Game” made me cry.
I don’t mean in the sense of openly weeping at the excitement of a hero winning his objective. It made me cry inside — and kept me teary-eyed — out of a sense of deep identification with Ender Wiggin. If you’ve ever been an outsider who wasn’t like the people around him, you might find yourself feeling deep empathy and attachment to the character of Ender.
I’ll start with the bottom line. If you read and loved Orson Scott Card’s novel, “Ender’s Game,” I think you’ll enjoy the movie version that opened in theaters Friday. (The trailer is below.)
The movie can’t go anywhere nearly as deep as the book did in creating attachment with the character, but if you already love the book — and couldn’t read it without feeling that parts of Ender’s story reminded you of your own story — the movie will probably evoke enough of what you felt in the book to be an enjoyable and emotional experience.
If you haven’t read the book, the movie isn’t going to be the same experience. Most of what’s important in the book takes place in Ender’s head. In the book, we get to know him. We experience his feelings. We identify with him. We become him. The movie can’t do that. (In an interview with Wired magazine this week, Card admitted that the book was unadaptable as he wrote it.)
But if you’re one of the nerdy outsiders who was expected to be brilliant — and never quite knew whether you were good enough or not — I suggest you go out and buy a copy of the book before seeing the movie. The book is short, so you can read it quickly and still get to the movie before it leaves theaters. You’ll understand the character much better if you do that. Even if you don’t read the book first, you’ll enjoy the movie. You’ll just miss out a lot on what made it so emotional for many of us.
If you never felt like a nerdy outsider with huge expectations placed on you — and if you grew up feeling pretty normal and feeling as though you fit in — I’m not sure how much is here for you. It’s a nice story, so you can enjoy that. But if you’re not a bit of a weirdo, it’s just going to be a moderately interesting story and you probably won’t think about it much beyond that.
Good science fiction uses the genre to tell very human stories, not just as an excuse to show flashy and exciting scenes of space or battles or cool technology.
The best science fiction is about the feelings, needs and growth of humans who are placed into futuristic scenarios. And that’s what Orson Scott Card did in his novel. He tapped into something that millions of us felt inside. He created a character that we identified with — a character who is brilliant, conflicted, insecure, principled and desperate to be understood and accepted.
It’s possible that you don’t see Ender this way, because I’m bringing bits and pieces of my own childhood experiences to my interpretation. And I’m bringing my emotional experience reading the book to my interpretation of the movie.
As a result, I’m not reviewing a movie as much as I’m saying, “Please see this movie so you can understand me more. And if you identify with Ender, too, maybe you’re like me. Maybe we understand each other.”
I know Ender. I know what it’s like to feel conflicted between the desire to understand others and the desire to crush others who stand in your way. I know what it’s like to have people expect things of you and to push you to become someone you’re not sure whether you’re ready to be. I know what it’s like to feel like an alien in a family, yet to have a desperate need for connection and acceptance from someone who torments you.
If any of this makes sense to you, I hope you’ll see “Ender’s Game,” although I still suggest you read the book first. (Bookstores are still open. Go buy a copy right now. Seriously.)
One more thing. If you can, see this with someone who really understands you emotionally. Because if you’re anything like me, you’re going to be very emotional during the movie and you’re going to need to talk about some feelings afterward, if it taps into anything similar to what it tapped for me.
Unfortunately, though, most of us who feel anything like Ender end up without anyone to understand us, so you might not have that luxury.
If that’s you, you’ll identify with the final shot of the movie — of Ender all alone and trying to do something that almost nobody is ever going to understand.