Film Corner: Ender's Game

[Content Note: Transphobia and Gender Binaries, Castration, Racism, Sexism, Spoilers for the Ender's Game movie.]

I wasn't planning to see Ender's Game in theaters because Orson Scott Card tastes like hate and Harrison Ford tastes like Unconcerned Straight Privilege, but a complicated series of events conspired to land my butt in the theater last night, hence the above tweet.

Now, I'm not going to do a full deconstruction of Ender's Game, because it would consist of me saying "Go read Will Wildman at Something Short and Snappy" approximately 800 times in a row, like Go read Will Wildman at Something Short and Snappy. Go read Will Wildman at Something Short and Snappy. Go read Will Wildman at Something Short and Snappy. Go read Will Wildman at Something Short and Snappy. Go read Will Wildman at Something Short and Snappy. Go read Will Wildman at Something Short and Snappy. Go read Will Wildman at Something Short and Snappy. Go read Will Wildman at Something Short and Snappy. Etc. Because, seriously, you should go read Will Wildman at Something Short and Snappy because his Ender's Game posts are pure awesome.

But I will, very briefly, touch on all the ways this movie gave me Angry Feels.

1. Binary Genderizing. This movie enforces a totally unnecessary and violently-enforced gender binary early on. The Shouty Sergeant who is settling the new kids into their new room mentions that there are girl-bathrooms and there are boy-bathrooms and if anyone is ever in the wrong bathroom at the wrong time, he'll slice their genitals off. HA HA WHUT. There was absolutely no reason to put this in here, and I don't see how reassuring the Conservo-Parents in the audience that the future doesn't have shared bathrooms via a castration joke is the way to go.

And while it's possible that the trans students get to pick a bathroom when they enroll in Battle School, that still doesn't help the students who can't or don't want to pick, and additionally there is a strong sense to the scene that genitals = gender and that is so fucking problematic I don't even. Like, why was this scene here? Congratulations, Hollywood, you are more transphobic than Pat Robertson. (And this is particularly lolsobby after Harrison Ford tried to insist that they'd cleaned up all of Orson Scott Card's homophobia. "But it didn't have enough transphobia, so we fixed that for him!" ~ words that Harrison Ford didn't say but could have, and been entirely factual while doing so.)

2. LOL UR RATING. I will also note here that as this is a castration joke sandwiched between Ender beating Stilson to death and Ender beating Bonzo (near) to death, this movie was naturally rated PG-13. Ratings have always been highly politicized and essentially meaningless, but it seems like they're becoming more so. I don't really care, except that the next time the protagonist isn't a Conservo-Dream White Boy, they'll slap an R on the movie because gob forbid children see things that aren't Conservo-Dream White Boys. Oh, and also, this movie is about a person remaining innocent and blameless while committing genocide, so there's that. (And, yes, Ender maybe doesn't think he's blameless -- although that's left very ambiguous; you could easily interpret him as thinking he IS blameless but his commanders aren't -- but the vast majority of the audience will leave feeling like Ender is innocent because he was tricked, etc. so the end result is the same.)

3. Actually Let's Talk About That Genocide Thing A Bit More. I've always been more than a little peeved at the ending of Ender's Game because the whole setup is that he was training in simulation, and then SURPRISE! it wasn't a simulation and the Buggers have been exterminated and Achievement Unlocked: Innocent Genocide. But, the thing is, Ender was in training to go and do that exact thing. Even if he backed out at the last second because he had doubts, all the simulation data they'd gathered from him would have surely been enough for the adults to manage to do the same stuff he pioneered, but in real time.

You can't pull the "but I thought I was playing video games!" innocence card when the 'video games' were training for doing the exact same thing for realsies in a couple of weeks AND when everything you were doing in training could reasonably have been used by others (who are clearly watching you) to do the exact same thing for realsies. What I'm saying is, I do not and never will buy this book's insistence that Ender Wiggin could not possibly foreseen that he was orchestrating a genocide, merely because he was doing the genocide slightly earlier than he'd intended.

Which doesn't mean I don't think all-of-the-above couldn't be explored as an interesting moral conundrum. "At what point am I responsible for the tactics / tech I develop and how it's used" is actually a very good and relevant moral question, with far-reaching impacts from everything to drone attacks to social media sites crafted without anti-stalking policies. But Ender's Game doesn't explore that question because it's too busy painting Ender Wiggin as more innocent than Baby Jesus Christ.

4. Fucking Racism. The thing I hated most about this movie in real time was that the whole thing appears to be about black people learning to defer to white men. UGH. And this is a shame because I was initially very pleased at how may people of color are in this film -- it's entirely possible that Ender and Harrison Ford and the kid who played Bernard are the only main characters who are presented as white. But. The Shouty Sergeant, who is black, has as his most pivotal moment a bit where he salutes Ender (after he'd initially promised he'd never salute him) in order to give him Conservo-Dream White Boy confidence.

And Major Anderson is played by the always-awesome Viola Davis (who deserves better movies than she gets, alas), and her job is to rage-quit because Harrison Ford is a dehumanizing monster and he's all "meh, don't let the door hit you on the way out" and then we never see her again, dammit. And while the sub-text of the movie is that she's right and he's not, (a) that doesn't mean we get any real vindication of that (like bringing her character back at the end to court-martial Ford's ass or something) and (b) I'm really not convinced that 80% of the audience will come away with the idea that the Buggers weren't really a threat, despite Ender holding that view. American xenophobia + decades of monster movies + cultural assumption that population expansion means invading already-occupied places = muddled message, to say the least.

Also: Any fat acceptance credits I would have wanted to give to the movie for making Bernard a main character in his own right (and seriously, that bit was awesome and I wanted to weep because fat boys are never lovely main characters in their own right) was instantly dampened by my literal shock and fury that they merged Bonzo The Most Beautiful Boy In The World with Rose The Nose because it wouldn't be a conservo-dream nightmare movie if the ethnic-looking villain who has to be beaten up by the White Boy wasn't also less conventionally attractive than the white boy (in addition to being more violent, by authorial fiat as opposed to by actual body count numbers), because this is American dammit and we like our heroes pretty and our villains ugly.

5. And, Finally, Petra. Oh my god, Petra. If you've been reading Will Wildman's posts (and my associated comments), you're probably entirely familiar with my issues with book!Petra. She's consistently weaker and stupider than all the other boys in the Dream Team, which is probably not incidental in a book where it is world-canon that girls are poorly suited for Battle School. And her badass talent, sniping, isn't precisely useful in a universe where she never leaves the commander's tactical tent. And to top it all off, Orson Scott Card basically made her Stupid Judas, who nearly gets Ender killed when she badly misjudges the intensity of Bonzo's rage and deliberately leads Ender into a deadly trap. So there's all that.

This movie does a lot to try to circumvent that, but there's a lot of potholes you need to watch out for when side-stepping a cliff. Petra offers to train Ender, but since there's no time for Dink to eventually do the same, there's a strong undercurrent of Token Girl* = The Gentle One (Because Ovaries Make You Motherly). And then Ender starts sniping things perfectly within a day, so that rather undercuts Petra's badassness, plus his first foray into the games isn't to win because Bonzo is wrong, but is instead an impulsive move to Save Petra because otherwise she might get laser-tagged in a game of laser tag. CHIVALRY TO THE RESCUE! And then Ender teaches Petra self-defense, which makes no sense whatsoever because it's been established that self-defense classes are part of the mandatory curriculum and Petra has been there longer than Ender, but Ender (a) has a penis and (b) has an older brother, so obvs he knows more about self-defense than SOME GIRL.

* Yes, there are other girls in movie!Battle School, yay. No, none of them have names or talk to Petra. This movie does not, to my recollection, pass Bechdel.

When the Dream Team finally starts running Simulations (Except For Realsies), I nearly laughed out loud when Mazer says that Petra "has been trained to fire" the uber-weapon because SHE PRESSES A BUTTON. That was her training: "Petra, when the gauge says full, you press this button." ~ Petra's teacher, presumably. And while this does put Petra at the forefront at the climatic (and obscenely pretty, like seriously it is gorgeous) final battle, she is (a) still just taking orders (as opposed to Alai and Bean who have been given fuller reign to implement their own tactics) and (b) the suggestion in the movie is that, since firing the Big Weapon is Petra's only job, therefore she has been doing absolutely nothing in the previous battles. Ugh.

And then... Petra is the one who pushes the button that kills everything. And all I could think of in that instant is that this shouldn't be Ender's story. This should be Petra's story. Yes, Ender was the tactical mind behind getting her there, but she fired the bullet that killed an entire species. And she gets nothing. No time to mourn or rage or anything because she's too busy mothering Ender while he mopes. This story isn't about her, and yet this story should be about her. This is as much her story as it is Ender's, and the film-makers and the author didn't respect that reality. Didn't care. It's not even her story in-universe, because it's Ender who the Buggers credit with the destruction of their species and we're supposed to figure that they would know. Everyone, even the Buggers, ignore the young woman who actually has their blood on her hands.

Because she's a young woman and young women aren't really important, I guess.

And before someone pops up to say that Orson Scott Card eventually re-wrote the whole thing from Petra's point of view -- in between the Bean re-write and the re-write from That One Fly Who Was Trapped In The Conference Room And Saw The Occasional Meeting -- that's kind of my point. The Conservo-Dream White Boy got the first book, and got the first (and I'll bet only) movie, and the story about The Girl Who Destroyed An Entire Planet was left later. If the author got around to it. If the fanbase could be arsed to read it. If Hollywood wanted to invest millions into what is essentially a remake but without a Conservo-Dream White Boy protagonist.

That kind of pisses me off. I want Petra to be the star of her own story. I think the fact that she isn't, is important.

But at least I have Catching Fire to look forward to.


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