Warning: This editorial contains MAJOR spoilers for the book Ender’s Game.
In the twenty or so years since I first read Ender’s Game, I’ve probably read the book around four additional times. Each time, I found myself marveling at the story and loving the way it was written, how it progressed, and what happened to the characters. It’s always remained a favorite of mine as the years went by. Yet the one thing in the entire book that’s never really sat well with me was what happened to Stilson.
The bully that torments Ender in the first chapter and eventually pays the ultimate price is very likely to be in the film. Stilson was first going to be played by the young actor Brendan Meyer. He even reported to the set in New Orleans and hung out with the cast.
At the last minute, a scheduling conflict required him to step down from the role and in his place came Caleb Thaggard, an actor who bore an odd resemblance to actor Jimmy Jax Pinchak (Peter Wiggin), another tormentor of Ender. Once Thaggard stepped in, I began to wonder if they’d decided to change the script slightly because Thaggard looked decidedly bigger than Meyer and with Asa Butterfield looking so slender, was it even going to be believable that Stilson was dead?
Which leads me to the big question. Does Stilson really have to die in the film adaptation? I posed this question to the EnderWiggin.net fans on Facebook and 100% of the answers came back with a resounding YES. Everyone who answered felt that Stilson’s death was completely necessary for Ender’s character building to become the leader he did and eventually led him to wipe out the Formics.
But I’m still not convinced of this. We never learn about Stilson’s death until the end of the book during Graff’s trial and it’s safe to say that Ender never learns it until then either. So how does Stilson’s death play at all into Ender’s leadership building up until his final battle? It doesn’t, really. It was enough that Ender knew he’d beaten Stilson to a bloody pulp for him to feel deep remorse about it and this was when he was six years old. It’s likely that due to both his heightened intelligence and the actions of his brother Peter, Ender developed a moral compass much earlier than most children and the incident with Stilson was enough to strengthen his character.
Some people argued that Stilson’s death played a huge role in the sequels, haunting Ender for the rest of his days. This is something I completely agree with, but the thing about that is we’re not really sure they’ll make Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind movies right after Ender’s Game. In fact, I think it’s highly unlikely they will because those books would require a completely new cast and frankly are a bit too politically and morally centric to fit in with a franchise starting with the more action-filled and young adult-targeted Ender’s Game. I do feel they could eventually be made, but other movies keeping the young cast would be likely to come first and in the process, a lot more weight could be added to Ender’s load of guilt in so many other ways that would make up for a change in the fate of Stilson.
One of the biggest reasons I thought Orson Scott Card and Ender shouldn’t have killed Stilson was because Ender was six at the time. I can see why he withheld that bit of information until the end because the thought of Ender being a murderer at age six is a pretty repulsive thing. Reveal that at the start and people would have had a hard time falling in love with the character.
The same can go for movie Ender. Given their difference in stature, is Ender going to take a 2×4 to Stilson’s head in the movie? Or has he taken self defense classes on Earth and is already a deadly weapon? In this case, how will Gavin Hood prevent people from recoiling from the main character if he goes so far with Stilson at the start? Sure, we all had a laugh when Peter Parker punched Flash down the hallway and got food spilled onto his face, but Peter Parker never killed his bully to make a point.
Which brings me to another concern. With the influence of media on today’s youth, is it even wise to have Ender kill his tormentor from school? School bullying is an increasingly large problem in schools and I’m sure it’s at least part of the conversation that the studio could end up sending the wrong message about how to go about solving one’s problems with a bully in school.
The Dark Knight Rises theater shooting was horrific and cast a huge cloud of gloom onto the movie. We all looked in horror at what he’d done and probably thought to ourselves, “How could he do that? It’s just a movie!” To the vast majority of us, it is just a movie. But to that one kid out there who’s just been pushed a little bit too far, watching something like this in a movie could be enough to push them over the edge. And it only really takes one real life incident influenced by a movie for it to be too much.
One point someone brought up was that killing was simply what he did, thus the name Ender. But Ender never intended to kill Stilson, which means he was convinced that a beating would do the trick. So why is a death necessary if Ender himself doesn’t think it is? In a way, the death of Stilson in the book became essential to cement the notion that Ender was a monster, looked upon by the world the way they should have looked at Peter, which is why it’s always stood out to me that this was an author’s technique and not entirely flowing with the natural story.
In short, I feel a beating with a little blood and Stilson in the hospital with broken bones could have the desired effect to convince moviegoers that this incident and Ender’s answers are why Graff has chosen Ender for Battle School and at the same time wouldn’t carry all the baggage that a Stilson death could potentially bring into our real world outside the movie. If they wanted to, they could always follow the book and say near the end that Stilson died of complications in the hospital, but at that point I think the rest of the movie would have caused people to almost forget about Stilson completely, much like how I had when I first read the novel.
It’ll be interesting to see which way they chose to take this on. Stilson plays such a small part of the story, but lays the groundwork for Ender’s journey and is therefore very important. Until the movie in November 2013 or until someone’s counter argument can convince me otherwise, I maintain that Stilson’s death in the film isn’t necessary for a successful movie adaptation.