Ender and Ernesto: Comparative Cinematic Culture

Culture affects art, this much is certain. So it is unsurprising that when a nation’s culture is an ultra-violent concoction of nationalism, most of the art promulgated from major enterprises is centered on jingoistic crusades. Applying this theme to the United States is therefore not difficult. However, not all countries prize violence. Latin American nations, for instance, whose cultural identity sprouted from Imperialist oppression, diverge from the violence-fetish narrative instead opting for the interpersonal struggle narrative. Contrasted well in the recent release of Ender’s Game and the controversial film The Motorcycle Diaries, the audience is treated to a cultural comparison not unlike that of culture shock; the black sheep caveat being only instead of changing locales the premise is shifting cinematic representation.

In Ender’s Game the plot is typical Science-Fiction platitudes: Earth is locked in a war with an alien species known as the Formics; one invasion already repelled, military command believes another is imminent. There is a race to build a fleet of war ships but a more intense race to find a brilliant strategist to lead the troops. Enter Ender and Battle School, a place where exceptional children are taken to be trained in warfare. Performing well in the mock simulations Ender quickly rises the social chain at the school. While making many enemies as he does (including Bonzo, an antagonist of Latino origins which is killed by Ender) he eventually finds himself in command of the entire human war fleet. What Ender does not know, however, is that the fleet he controls is not merely a simulation but the actual fleet- every order he barks sends real men to their deaths. During the final battle with the Formic Ender sacrifices the entirety of his fleet in order to fire his super-weapon directly into the Formic home planet wiping the species out and thus ending the war.

While not nearly as grandiose as Ender’s Game, The Motorcycle Diaries is its own brand of entertainment. Following the travels of young Ernesto “Che” Guevara the film depicts the legendary Guerilla in a new light: kind, caring, compassionate. Truthful to a fault Ernesto plies his charm as he and his friend explore South America. Eventually arriving at a Leper Colony to treat patients Ernesto is confronted by an ugly kind of reaction. The colony’s priests insist that all doctors treating patients wear gloves at all times even with those patients whose illness does not possess contagious qualities. Ernesto, being the gentle soul he is, eschews this rule and walks among the diseased as one of them, a human.

Outlined above are the two most prominent scenes in each movie. Yet there is more here than simply preference in cinema. Underlying these threads are concentrated, conflicting worldviews.

Ender’s Game is about concrete violence, the physical violence associated with altercation. No less than three times in the film Ender takes life[1] (1) during the bout with the school yard bully in the beginning (2) the shower confrontation with Bonzo mid-way through and (3) the destruction of the Formics homeworld. This reliance on violence develops with the final battle “simulation” scene: Xenocide being preferable to dialogue. North American-European relations included, a parallel is gleamed in the form of the Holocaust; verbal communications are irrational, mass-murder the only viable alternative. The existence of large standing armies defending economic interest of the dominant imperialist powers, a uniquely European phenomenon when objectively examined, thus defines the proverbially icing: the integration of violence into art (filming and writing), of training children to fight the upcoming war, to ultimately commit genocide, is the final destination of militarist regimes. No other depiction of North American/ European-international relations is possible as the proof lies in the modern artist. Because of this it is not surprising to see the notion of the indomitable hero rising up to save the world. Ayn Rand would be proud; to reject collectivist notions of humanity saving themselves and to embrace ultra-individualistic tyrants[2] is the final hallmark needed to prove Ender’s Game is post-modernism incarnate.

Unsurprisingly a film depicting the youth of one of history’s most selfless revolutionaries is the exact opposite of Ender’s Game. The Motorcycle Diaries tells of Ernesto Che Guevara’s political evolution. From his origins as a naïve young man finishing his term in medical school to his birth as a communist rebel, the audience sees events which were crucial in shaping this icon. It is for this reason that we turn to abstract violence, or economic violence. Throughout the film Che and his friend travel and meet different people. Some assist them while others harangue them. Throughout it all, however, the two friends are modest. They share what little they have with those in need and clearly empathize with the downtrodden. Yet this attitude did not originate with the boys themselves, rather, it was a reaction to the material reality of capitalism. More specifically it was reaction of those who have nothing and bear witness to the horrors of poverty.

This is something uniquely foreign to American viewers. Moviegoers in the United States are not accustomed to watching a story about two people struggle across a continent simply to develop as people and help those they encounter. Civil conflict, lone wolves, and the escapades of the rich and powerful are First-Worlder canon. In this sense awareness of the working class and peasantry becomes a staple of not only the Motorcycle Diaries in general but many Latin American films[3].

For this reason the scene in where Ernesto refuses to wear gloves when examining the patients of the Leper Colony is so important. Willingness to not only learn from the lowest social class but work among the sickened elements to better understand them simply for the satisfaction of knowing (as opposed to First-World efforts which more often than not coincide with melodramatic plots regarding finding a cure for super-diseases) signifies to the viewer that the film they are watching, when examine don a deeper level, is socially poignant; in other words, this desire to conceive of controversial figures in a humanizing figure is something specific to Latin American culture precisely because the economic chaos inflicted upon them by the advanced countries demand nothing less in order to compensate for the net loss.

Obviously both stories are strikingly different. Each reflect specific ideologies. Ender’s Game depicts a strong-man savior complex while the Motorcycle Diaries displays Humanism, the cultural tie-in lies in socio-economic history: the personality cult of Ender’s Game is the natural result of economic power while the desire to help the poor is an expected outcome of financial destitution. The fact that the former has imposed upon the latter laws and trade agreements which ferment the aforementioned contradiction merely reinforces the primary dichotomy, that of North American Objectivism (as practiced by Ayn Rand’s fanatics) and South American radicalism (as practiced by professional revolutionaries). The fact that this reality was revealed through film does not degrade the penultimate understanding.

[1] An interesting film-world comparison is the fact that each time Ender takes life he is ignorant of the fact that he has indeed killed his adversaries. Each encounter with the children sends his adversaries to the hospital where they ultimately die. However, Ender is not told of their fate (death) until much later (during the sequels). While the encounter at the Formic home world is believed to be merely a simulation. In this light it may be argued that Ender’s Game is an analogy for U.S-Latin American relations in the sense that the average American worker knows not of the horrific influence their government has had in South American history and the destruction brought because of that intervention.

[2] See: Graff.

[3] Live-In-Maid comes to mind most prominently with minor consideration given to Pan’s Labyrinth and the Pope’s Toliet.

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