The Repression of Ender’s Game
Orson Scott Card is a Mormon, as such he believes that marriage is properly an institution which requires both a man and a woman. He has supported this position publicly, though not vociferously. For this reason, there have been attempts to boycott the new film based on his novel Ender’s Game. This despite the fact that Card’s financial arrangement with the studio are such that he makes no money based on ticket sales and that even such reliably liberal outlets as the New York Times and Huffington Post have published editorials opposing the boycott. There were calls to prevent the film from being made and there have been attempts to ban Card from creative involvement with the Superman comic book franchise.
Basically to be a Mormon is to be ban bait and Hollywood and Broadway have had no end of fun at the expense of Mormons. But what I find interesting about all of this is the degree to which suppressionists have already won the day, at least for the moment. And I’m not talking about the boycott attempts, I’m talking about the film itself.
Ender’s Game is about an earth of the not too distant future which is ruled over by a global government which controls population and suppresses religion. Ender is a “Third”, that is a third child, and third children are as a general rule illegal. Waivers can be granted for the conception of a third based on the interest of the state, however. And Ender’s parents were granted such a waiver because the family is of very high intelligence and high intelligence children were needed for the war effort. Ender’s two older siblings, Peter and Valentine, were both found to be of extremely high intelligence but each was temperamentally unfit for fleet command, in opposite ways. Valentine was too docile; Peter, too aggressive. Ender, it turns out, is just right.
Ender’s parents are religious, the mother is a Mormon, the father a Polish Roman Catholic named John Paul. Ender was secretly baptized as a child, as religions are suppressed in Ender’s world. In Battle School, Ender Meets Alai, an Arab boy, who whispers to Ender, “Salaam“, “Peace,” which Ender takes to be a reference to a suppressed religion. Ender’s very name is a religious reference (actually, I think it’s two religious references): he is named after St. Andrew, one of Jesus’ earliest disciples. Peter and Valentine are both consciously named after Christian saints.
Religious themes abound in the novel. (spoilers ahead) At a climactic scene in the psychological monitoring and control computer program, on Ender’s ‘desk’ Ender crushes the head of a serpent under his heel (which astute Sunday school students will recognize as the proto-evangelium from Genesis 3.) In other words, Ender is a Christ symbol. And if that is not clear to the reader in the serpent-killing scene, it is made clear after the climax of the novel, when Ender is in some sense sacrificed to save the world and he falls into a kind of psychological death state during which his female disciple named Petra (“rock”) holds vigil while Ender’s body is gently washed and laid to rest. I think that Ender’s name is a further indication of his symbolic role: Ender is a corruption of Andrew, the Saint, and appeared as many family nickname’s do, as a mispronunciation by a young sibling. But it hints at Andros, “man” as in ‘son of’.
Then after all of this Ender goes deep into the earth, into a cave and rescues ‘the queen’ from the dead, taking her out of the ground to save her and her race, a classic descendit ad infernum, and harrowing of hell scenario. Now, you may think I’m reading too much into this. There’s always someone in the comment section with some gem of highly polished ignorance: “It’s just a movie.” Except it’s not just a movie, it’s a novel, and a novel in which Card explicitly says that he has planted lots of literary devices and symbols for the kind of people (like me) who like that sort of thing.
Plus, almost none of that material is in the movie. That’s right, that religious stuff is censored out of the film. Nothing about the kids being named after Saints, nothing about the parent’s religion. And don’t tell me there was not time for it. In the film, the father is named John. The mother tells him, “John, talk to the boy”. Don’t tell me that the movie was just too fast paced to add an one extra syllable “Paul” which would have been a dead giveaway as to the father’s Catholic identity. There are one or two short references to the population suppression of Ender’s world, but not a single reference to its religious suppression. That’s right, the theme of religious repression in the novel is itself repressed in the film.
I can join much of the conservative world in decrying the intolerance of the left which tries to ban a movie like Ender’s Game, or I could be joined in exaltation about the failure of the effort to stop the film from being made. But from my standpoint, the saddest part of the whole sorry episode is that Card’s novel was great partly because it understood the ways in which tyrannies must war against God, and the way in which God, working through the individual human spirit can resist. It was, after all, John Paul who helped defeat the Soviets, and not any other pope after which Ender’s father was named.
But modern Hollywood does not see Christianity as a bulwark against tyranny, it’s a story that they just don’t have ears to hear, so they just can’t seem to have mouths to tell it, even when it’s the center of the story. What a pity; it reminds me of the bowdlerization of Bradbury’s Farhenheit 451, but that will have to wait for a future column.
Article originally published on Forbes.com.