Story

Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is a highly intelligent 22nd-century child. Along with many other gifted children, he is being trained by an international military force for future intergalactic battles. Seventy years earlier, the Earth was almost wiped out and millions of people killed after an invasion by the formics, an insect-like alien race. Colonel Hyram Graff (Harrison Ford) singles out Ender as a possible saviour of the human race and sends Ender to a battle school in space for further training.

Ender proves himself to have unique leadership skills and the ability both to command respect and question authority. These skills and abilities mean that he quickly advances to commander school. There he is put into the Salamander team, led by the rather nasty Bonzo (Moises Arias). Bonzo takes an immediate dislike to Ender.

Ender proves himself to be smarter than Bonzo and moves on to take command of the entire fleet. But Ender is also becoming increasingly uncomfortable about his role and the preparations for war. During the final battle, Ender wants to know if he can be as successful at peace as he is at war.

Themes

The ethics of war; child soldiers

Violence

Ender’s Game has a lot of violence. For example:

  • Space battle scenes between formics and humans show spaceships being blown up.
  • Children and young people are being trained in close combat and the use of weapons. There are many practice battles where they fight with laser pistols.
  • Some bullies ambush and attack Ender. Ender picks up an object and fights back, hurting his opponents a lot. The main bully falls to the ground and Ender kicks him repeatedly. When asked if he enjoyed this, Ender says that he did it only to stop further attacks.
  • Ender fights with his older brother, Peter, who nearly strangles him. Peter was disqualified during training because he was prone to violence.
  • Ender and Bean (Aramis Knight) shoot each other with lasers, which paralyse them.
  • Bonzo punches Ender in the stomach and threatens to kill him.
  • Surrounded by bodyguards, Bonzo comes into the bathroom while Ender is having a shower. He challenges Ender to a fight, but Ender squirts hot water onto him. Bonzo attacks Ender, who kicks him away. Bonzo falls down, hits his head hard and is knocked out. Ender thinks that he has killed him.

Content that may disturb children

Under 5

In addition to the violent scenes mentioned above, Ender’s Game has some scenes of transformation that would scare or disturb children under five years. For example:

  • Ender plays a computer game that the military psychologist has said is OK for him to play. In the game a mouse-like creature runs through a barren wasteland and a giant scary man suddenly appears. The mouse jumps onto the man and crawls into his eye, killing him.
  • Further into Ender’s game, a giant alien insect appears. The alien disintegrates and becomes his sister, Valentine (Abigail Breslin). The mouse changes into Ender, who tries to save his sister.
  • Ender has to fight a giant cobra that changes into his brother, Peter.
  • Mazer (Ben Kingsley) is a legendary war hero who has tattoos covering his face to honour his Maori ancestors. He looks quite scary. 

From 5-8

In addition to the violent scenes and scary visual images mentioned above, Ender’s Game has some scenes that could scare or disturb children in this age group. For example:

  • Ender has his electronic monitor removed by a machine. This causes him to scream in pain.
  • Ender has to be sedated with a large hypodermic needle. 

From 8-13

Children in this age group might also be scared by some of the scenes mentioned above. 

Over 13

Younger children in this age group might also be disturbed by some of the scenes mentioned above. 

Sexual references

None of concern 

Alcohol, drugs and other substances

None of concern 

Nudity and sexual activity

None of concern 

Product placement

None of concern 

Coarse language

Ender’s Game has some coarse language and name-calling. 

Ideas to discuss with your children

Ender’s Game is a science fiction thriller that raises several ethical questions, particularly about war and the right to attack an aggressor or defend yourself. The computer-generated images are very effective.

The movie will appeal to both teenagers and adults. But the themes and fairly intense violent and scary scenes make Ender’s Game unsuitable for children under 13 years, with parental guidance strongly recommended for children aged 13-14 years.

The main messages from this movie are that diplomacy should always be the preferred option to war. To defeat your enemies you must first understand them.

Values in this movie that you could reinforce with your children include compassion and empathy. You could also point out the strong female characters and the way the movie highlights the need to question authority at times.

You could talk about issues raised by Ender’s Game too, including the:

  • morality of training child soldiers and the psychological trauma this causes
  • morality of attacking another race to prevent an attack by them
  • need to defend yourself in spite of a dislike of physical violence.