The X-Files: I Want To Believe
Directed by Chris Carter
Starring David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly
Release date: July 25, 2008
“I can’t lose faith, Lancelot. It’s all I have left.” –Perceval from Excalibur
“How many times have we been here before, Scully? Right here. So close to the truth and now with what we’ve seen and what we know to be right back at the beginning with nothing.” — Fox Mulder from The X-Files: Fight The Future
“Let’s just say that I want to believe.” — Fox Mulder from The X-Files: I Want To Believe
The X-Files: Restoring Faith
The hedonistic glare of the Nineties is a distant memory. I remember my fervent weekly devotion to the X-Files television show. It was one of my favorite shows on network television. For me, the show was the very essence of Nineties television. In a post-Cold War landscape, it was time to turn the lens on ourselves. The show captured paranoia and conspiracy on a grand scale. The high concept pitch would have been The Parallex View meets Kolchak: The Night Stalker.
I would say the series worked very well for the first seven seasons. Why did it work? The relationship between David Duchovny‘s Fox Mulder and Gillian Anderson‘s Dana Scully was and will always be the core of the X-Files. Tamper with that dynamic and you do not have much to work with at all. As much as I adore every incarnation of The Avengers, it was always at its best with Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg. Yes, Anderson and Duchovny have that kind of chemistry.
If one saw Kalifornia before the X-Files series came on, David Duchovny’s Brian Kessler set us up for Fox Mulder beautifully. Duchovny and Anderson were always the paranormal answer to Nick and Nora Charles from The Thin Man films. It did not matter so much what was going on in each episode — what mattered was that they were in each episode.
After the first film, The X-Files: Fight The Future, it seemed that the creators had gone too far down the rabbit hole. It seemed that Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, and Vince Gilligan had no idea how to end their show. They took us in wild directions; the first seven seasons were some of the best television I had ever seen in a post-Prisoner environment. Not just the ongoing mythology episodes, but many of the standalone episodes were very exciting to watch unfold. I remember talking to a friend of mine outside the theater after seeing Fight The Future; we were hoping for some answers, but all we got was a bunch of new questions. What better way to get people to watch the series when it came back in the Fall of that year. It was brilliant marketing at the time. I am not sure when the show jumped the shark with me. I think I began to lose faith sometime in late 1999 or 2000, because the show lost me. As much as I was loyal to the show, I was losing patience. It did not help matters that I had fallen under the spell of The Sopranos as soon it premiered, but still I made time for The X-Files. Yet, I did lose my faith in the show before the end of its run. I was no longer a die hard fan.
Here we are six years after the show ended and The X-Files: I Want To Believe has arrived in theaters. I will be honest, I had low expectations for the film. The trailers did not look promising and Chris Carter was not giving anything away in any of his interviews. I have to say that the film is much better than I could have ever imagined, but I do not think it is the film that X-Files fans have been waiting for and I am not sure that the casual filmgoer is going to embrace it either. While it is much better than I thought it would be, it still needs some work. Chris Carter has made a very personal and small film and uses Mulder and Scully as stand-ins for himself. May I dare to say that he has made a very grown-up film, a very adult film. I would venture to say that they released the film at the wrong time of year. This is not a summer popcorn film. The film is aptly titled because belief seems to be something that Carter had lost toward the end of the series. Let me put it this way: everyone wants to believe in something in this film. Each character is confronted by some kind of doubt. The nihilism that may have defined parts of the Nineties is something the film wishes to erase. The first film was about fighting the future. This film is about believing in the future.
The conspiracies and alien invasions that made up the bulk of The X-Files storylines are nowhere to be found in this film. In the six years since we last saw the X-Files, Fox Mulder has been hiding out avoiding arrest on federal conspiracy charges. Dana Scully is a pediatric surgeon at a Catholic hospital. These are the lives they have chosen for themselves. Can you blame them? They lived through interesting and dangerous times for nine years. They are as far removed from their FBI days as they can be. Agent Mosley Drummy (Alvin ‘Xzibit’ Joiner) shows up at Scully’s hospital asking for her help in a case involving an abducted agent. The Agency needs an expert who listens to psychics — they need Fox Mulder. Scully says she does not where Mulder is these days, but we sense this is not true. She goes to Mulder and it does not take much to get him on board. Once in Washington DC, they are briefed by Amanda Peet‘s Dakota Whitney, the assistant special agent in charge, on the current case. All they have is a severed arm and a priest who keeps having visions of the victim’s whereabouts. The priest is played by the always reliable Billy Connolly. Father Joseph Crissman lives in an apartment complex for sex offenders. Mulder and Scully are back in the thick of the darkness.
Father Crissman is a former pedophile. It is interesting and disturbing that Carter has made him such a crucial character in the film. Crissman is the catalyst for Scully and Mulder to regain their faith in their lives and in each other. The abduction plot involving the FBI agents reminds me too much of The Silence Of The Lambs mixed with Turistas. The main plot is a solid thriller that managed to keep me engaged — I was more engaged than I thought I would be at first. It is how this plot relates to the other plot line in the film that I found compelling. Its other story is far more interesting. The film is about faith. It seems that Chris Carter has developed into a “person of greater faith.” He has stated this in an interview in The Washington Post. He is no longer the skeptic he once was because his life has found meaning. Watching the film, this becomes obvious. His film opened the same day as Julian Jarrold’s Brideshead Revisited and deals with some of the same themes. The stringent Catholicism that dominates Emma Thompson’s Lady Marchmain seems to have spilled over into the X-Files realm. As a pediatric surgeon at a Catholic hospital, Scully must go against the priests in order to do the right thing for a young boy who is dying of cancer. She must decide if it is beneficial to operate on him or if it will make him suffer more. Oddly enough, it is the “monster” Crissman who helps Scully make the right and difficult decision. It is not just Scully’s belief that needs to be restored, but also Mulder’s as well. What does he believe in anymore? Here is the deal: we need to have a Mulder who believes because he made a believer of all us so many years ago. What good is a jaded and nihilistic Mulder? Father Joe believes that his psychic ability is his redemption. His powers can be used for good. This is a gift from God according to him.
I know what you are thinking; this does not sound like much a film, not even much of an X-Files film. I feel the film is interesting and very adult. It does boast three very good performances from David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, and Billy Connolly. Duchovny has been doing excellent work in The TV Set and Things We Lost In The Fire as well as Showtime’s Californication. Gillian Anderson was very good in The House Of Mirth as well The Last King Of Scotland. Although as Dakota Whitney, Amanda Peet is not given much to do; her admiration for Mulder’s career comes across very clearly. It was great to see Mitch Pileggi‘s Walter Skinner show up toward the end. The film does have the look of the series with cold, gray skies and the harsh winter. Bill Roe’s cinematography has the look of the series. He did a good job with the series and brings that good work to the film. I was happy to hear Mark Snow’s iconic theme music at times.
Faith is the central theme of this film. Chris Carter has used his brainchild as a template to address his restoration of faith in his own life. It is a very bold film for him to make. I was not expecting much from this film. I realize that this film will disappoint some of the series faithful, but I appreciated certain aspects of this film. It was great to see Mulder and Scully together. They do not miss a beat. They have wonderful on-screen chemistry together — granted they are not the same as when we left them nor would I expect them to be. They have matured in their own lives. They have their own crises of faith throughout the film. Yet, we never forget what Mulder is doing and neither does he. He is doing this for his sister, for her memory. This may not be the film that some X-Files fans expected, but it is the film that Chris Carter felt he had to make. I was not disappointed in a film that I figured was going to be the equivalent of a washed-out stripper. I am surprised that the film works so well as a thriller as well as a treatise on faith. The X-Files: I Want To Believe is a personal film for Chris Carter. He wants us to believe and trust once again. Long live Fox Mulder and Dana Scully!