Ender’s Game has always been about generational conflict: An international military organization takes gifted young children and trains them in a totalitarian environment in order to prepare them for the invasion of an alien species. Strip away its visions of a gamified zero-gravity future and sci-fi invasions, and Orson Scott Card’s 1985 book tells a quintessential children vs. adults-who-are-jerks-and-just-don’t-get-us narrative. Or, as Ender puts it in the film: “Why should I respect someone just because they outrank me?”
The book has reached canonical status in part because that theme becomes newly relevant for each wave of children who come across it. That same cyclical renewal applies to generational discord in our non-fictional world. Older generations trying to control a younger one that wants to reject the status quo is nothing particularly new.
But when viewed through the prism of the contemporary, general themes can become specific and topical ones. That’s why writer-director Gavin Hood’s Ender’s Game adaptation feels like it’s not just children vs. adults—it’s Millennial vs. Baby Boomers.
A stigma, most recently exemplified by Joel Stein’s controversial Time magazine cover story “The Me Me Me Generation,” has developed around the group of people born approximately between 1980 and 2000. They’re hounded by the perception that they are “lazy, entitled narcissists,” financial drains on their parents, and exhibitive of unjustified confidence and unorthodox thinking that makes them affronts to Boomer models of career paths and workplaces. Even Millennials virtues that have the potential to “save us all” (as Stein put it)—like their tech prowess—are frequently treated as problems that need solving.