Took in a double bill of the much hyped, Palme D’Or winning Blue is the Warmest Color and the adaptation blockbuster Ender’s Game yesterday. Couldn’t pick two more polar opposite films if I tried. I was on the fence about Blue. Parts of it I loved. Parts of it were problematic. Ender’s Game, I thought, was outright sucky. Seeing them back to back was an interesting study in contrasts, Blue was quiet, thoughtful, and European, giving the audience plenty of time to study the characters and think about their inner lives. Ender’s Game was awash with a heavy-handed score, intent on telling the audience what to think.
Proceed with caution: Minor spoilers ahead!
Let’s start with Blue. The film’s lead, Adele, is a high school student whose friends are obsessed with boys, sex, and dating. From the outset, it becomes clear that Adele fancies girls. I love the way the film captures that awkwardness of budding sexuality. Adele swings wildly from cockiness to insecurity. It has a natural feel in that regard. She is a riveting character in the early goings. She comes across as someone fully engaged with the world. She’s bursting with enthusiasm for literature, philosophy, music. She attends political rallies. She chides a fellow classmate for not reading books. She does have insecurities, but those stem from her confused feelings about her sexuality. The only part of her life where she treads cautiously, revolve around sex. She can’t fully be who she wants to be amongst her boy-crazy, narrow-minded girlfriends. This is a person, who presumably will blossom when she meets the right mentor. And meet the right mentor she does. Emma is an art-school college student with a shock of blue hair. They fall deeply in love. They have lots of hot sex and then the film skips ahead several years. For me, that’s where the problems arise in the film. Once we skip ahead a couple of years, Adele is no longer the girl we met at the film’s open. Instead of being fully realized, she’s become a shell of her former self. She lives only to please her hotshot artist girlfriend. She has no life outside their relationship. She lives to cook, clean, and entertain for Emma and her friends. She can’t converse with Emma’s friends, because she knows nothing about art. I just don’t buy this transformation from vital youth to dependent lover. Yes people change and relationships can do screwy things to people, and yes Adele fell in love with an older woman, but Adele was ready to take off. She’s set up as someone ready to fully embrace the world. She meets the right person, and then she backslides into a stereotypical school girl in love. It was a puzzling transformation for me. And when the relationship goes south, she turns into a blubbering mess, producing mounds and mounds of snot. As the film skips further ahead in time, the relationship has been over 3 years, and Adele is still pining away and blubbering for Emma. Her life is an empty void without the love of her life. I just didn’t buy it. It bugged me.
Were there things I liked about the movie? Absolutely. I loved the early goings. The navigation of youthful feelings. The quiet, contemplative European styling’s of the film. I love that the film discusses art, literature, and philosophy. And I love that the director presumes his audience will understand and embrace these topics. I loved the scenes of Adele feeling awkward around Emma’s friends. I thought those scenes expertly captured being around those who one can’t relate to. But for such a controversial film, I was a little disappointed by the somewhat conservative and stereotypical turn the movie takes when delving into the world of relationships.
As for Ender’s Game, I just plowed through the Orson Scott Card book to get ready for the movie. The problem with Ender’s Game is one that plagues many adaptations. It simply moves too fast, trying to cram too much plot into a 2 hour time frame. The result is a lack of character development. The book expertly tracks Ender’s state-of-mind, his slow realization at how he’s being used and manipulated, and how he comes to terms with his fate. The movie blasts through the subtleties as the movie blitzkriegs from major plot point to plot point. Also, one of the main tropes of the book focuses on how those in command, especially Colonel Graff (played by Harrison Ford), continually isolate Ender, leaving him to fend for himself. While the movie hints at that, too often Graff and associates come across as paternal, nurturing, and working with Ender. That’s a big shift and one I didn’t like. The book drips with Ender’s isolation and the resultant frustration and internal conflict Ender experiences. His friends are hard-won and don’t materialize right away. In the movie he finds his posse quickly and they have an all-for-one and one-for-all mentality right from the start.
So there ya have it. Short, oversimplified, with much less angst and isolation than the book. I was pretty bored. But still, who doesn’t love sitting in a movie theater for 5 hours over the course of the day.