The Effect of Context on Characters’ Perseverance and Determination: Comparing ‘Ender’s Game’ and ‘Gattaca’
The true power behind the intrinsic relationship between a text and its context lies in its ability to evoke different responses form composers to the same universal message, as a result of the concerns in their respective social and political atmospheres. That is, a composer’s context is inherently linked to the representation of the characters’ personal determination to achieve beyond their society’s values of individualism and morality (or lack thereof). This is heavily explored in Andrew Niccol’s 1997 film, Gattaca, and Orson Scott Card’s 1985 novel, Ender’s Game, in which their dystopic societies offer a canvas to which characters can strive despite. This, however, is also altered between the two texts due to their contexts. While Gattaca alludes to the rising dependence on genetic manipulation and enhancement that compromises individualism and morality, Ender’s Game explores the same concepts differently through the lens of the Cold War. Thus, the character’s personal determination and resilience is illustrated differently as a result of their composer’s contexts.
Individualism is a highly distinguishable trait of any given character’s sense of resilience. That is, to be an individual in the face of a greater and seemingly more powerful society is an act of determination in itself, and Gattaca explores this thoroughly. The world created is illustrated as rather barren and sterile—despite its supposed “perfection”—through the use of indoor fluorescent lighting to create visually cool tones. This creates a setting in which there is a complete lack of any means of individualism and, thus, humanity, allowing the representation of the protagonists within the film to appear even more determined to strive against the odds. This illustration of individualism through such negative portrays of the lack of it is Niccol’s commentary that, if the extent to which scientific developments were taken was too great (and, at the time, that was a very real possibility), then the sacred value of individualism would be destroyed. Similarly, towards the end of the film, Eugene states, “I only lent you my body. You lent me your dream.” The use of a close up of his hopeful face ultimately shows that, despite the oppressive world that they live in, it is a commendable feat to be determined to achieve more than what society expects of you. However, this view is not replicated in Ender’s Game,” due to the composer’s different contexts. Though characters’ personal resilience is still praised, the concept of individualism itself is treated with more apprehension, as Card understands it to be a cause for isolation. “Peter won’t hate me anymore [now that I didn’t make it]. I’ll be a normal kid now, just like him.” The use of internal monologue allows readers to understand that, because Ender has such a great capacity and personal determination to strive above others, he is constantly alienated to the point that it ruins his entire sense of identity by the end of the novel. This is Card’s allusion to the fact that, at the time of writing, the Cold War created such a military focused society that people’s determination and “giftedness” became exploited and used as nothing more than weapons. Thus, the contrast between how individuals are portrayed in their texts as figures of resilience is great, due to the composers’ contexts.
Our morality is a universal issue that both texts explore and, more importantly, how the lack of it in any given society will inevitably lead to individuals to become more determined to value that above all else. Gattaca alludes to this lack of morality in society firstly through the repeated references to both the past and future, achieved by the sepia filter, film noir genre and older style architecture that is reminiscent of the 1950s. The allusion to such a time in which totalitarianism ideals were still very much relevant and, thus, led to discrimination of certain minorities, is Niccol’s attempt to represent his characters more clearly as their inner morality is emphasised in contrast to such a horrendous society. The allusions to the future, however, also shows that it is Niccol’s concern that, perhaps, if scientific developments were rapidly advancing the way they were at the time of the film’s production, it could potentially lead to a totalitarian society in which something other than our personal determination and resilience has total control over our lives. This is seen when Vincent tells Eugene that his invalid status will not matter on Titan. The mid shot of his determined features and the dialogue illustrate how Niccol responds to the potential problems of his context through the resilience and need for his characters to escape a society that, because of such scientific developments is ultimately corrupted and immoral.
A similar idea isnexplored in Ender’s Game, but with a much larger focus on the Cold war and that National Defence Education Program that arose out of it. The “gifted” children (namely those at Battle School) are a reflection of the Gifted and Talented program that many people in Card’s context saw as immoral, as they ultimately isolated and exploited children—the epitome of pure morality—all in hopes of winning a rather mindlessly destructive war. “Don’t you sometimes wish we were ordinary children?” The questioning utilised shows how the characters within the novel do have a determination to question their society, but ultimately lack the resilience to act upon it. It also evokes a sympathetic response from readers as they see childhood innocence through the atrocious and impure actions of the authoritative within the novel, which is a metaphor for that of Card’s world. The impact of military technology also plays an integral role in creating a world that characters can strive in spite of it, as seen through “Nuclear weapons, after all, were once weak enough to be used on Earth. The Little Doctor could never be used on any planet.” The high modality of “never” reflects Card’s concern that, without individuals who dare to challenge such a military focused society, weapons will be made with incomprehensibly atrocious consequences on our morality. Thus, Card and Niccol both emphasise the importance of one’s moral determination, but the ways in which this is done differ as a direct reflection of their contexts.
The idea of personal determination and resilience is a concept that is explored across both time and place. However, as Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game shows, this is done in varying ways due to their contexts. Ultimately, one’s morality and individualism is key to creating change, and we can see that a universal message is being portrayed through a medium that we, as responders, understand as the text.
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