Viola Davis, ‘Ender’s Game,’ and the Giant’s Drink

Not only is Viola Davis going to be in Ender’s Game, but they’re creating a role that’s not in the books, or at least is split off from Colonel Graff’s duties, for her: “Davis will play a military psychologist who oversees the emotional welfare of young trainees. She also helps design the games that test their skills and resilience.” This sounds terrific to me, honestly. In the novels, the characters that Graff argues with about Ender’s well-being aren’t really fleshed out at all—it’s more a conversation between him and Valentine. So giving Graff a clear adult partner in trying to figure out how to calibrate Ender’s training makes a lot of sense, particularly given that Harrison Ford, who’s playing Graff, has essentially regressed into a single cantankerous emotional range in recent years.

And even as someone who didn’t grow up playing video games, the Fantasy Game in the novel has always been one of the literary devices from that period of my reading life that stuck with me most strongly. In the novel, it’s a computer that keeps expanding the game for Ender after he beats what should have been its highest-level, overcoming a no-win scenario through a burst of unexpected violence. In the world of the novel, particularly given the way artificial intelligence evolves and the roles it plays in the subsequent books, it makes sense that an AI would be able to create a detailed psychological response to Ender’s pain. But I think in the movie it makes more sense to give us a person who’s designing the game, to personify that exploration of Ender’s psyche and the creative process that leads to its most stunning revelations.

It also makes the ending of the novel, in which the aliens Ender’s exterminated build a replica of the game to communicate with him after they’re gone, even more poignant. In the novel, Ender and the Hive Queen have learned their way towards reconciliation and forgiveness, and Ender takes on the task of making up for his crime after he’s reached that place of understanding. But by putting a person behind the fantasy game, Ender becomes a point of convergence for humanity as a whole and the Buggers: he’s someone they both need to understand, and he becomes them the first thing they truly have in common. In the novels, Ender’s xenocide set the stage for regret and a too-late desire for reconciliation, and he provided the intellectual framework for those emotions. But personifying the Fantasy Game plants the seed of that framework even earlier. Now, if only the movie or a sequel will give us a sense of the Hive Queen.