The X-Files: I Want to Believe
Director : Chris Carter
Screenplay : Frank Spotnitz & Chris Carter
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2008
Stars : David Duchovny (Fox Mulder), Gillian Anderson (Dana Scully), Amanda Peet (ASAC Dakota Whitney), Billy Connolly (Father Joseph Crissman), Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner (Agent Mosley Drummy), Callum Keith Rennie (Janke Dacyshyn), Adam Godley (Father Ybarra), Alex Diaku (Gaunt Man), Nicki Aycox (2nd Victim), Fagin Woodcock (Franz Tomczeszyn), Marco Niccoli (Christian Fearon)
It’s been six years since The X-Files series came to an end and 10 years since its first appearance on the big screen, so viewers will be forgiven if they find it a bit strange that series creator Chris Carter is bringing out a new movie, especially one that does virtually nothing to advance the series’ mythology and is instead a largely stand-alone storyline (or, maybe it does, and only true X-philes can figure it out …). While the story is clever and creepy enough to generate intrigue and sustain attention, fans of the series will derive most of their pleasure from seeing Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) on-screen again; their chemistry, which has aged like a fine wine, is indelible. But, when the final credits start rolling, it’s hard not to think that The X-Files: I Want to Believe is at best a semi-successful reopening of those old files that were thought to be forever closed.
Making his feature film directorial debut, Carter has delivered a dark, murky, and wintry film that feels like an odd fit for the summer movie season, even one dominated by the nihilism of The Dark Knight. With all its billowing snow, frozen landscapes, and inky darkness, were it not for Anderson’s flaming red locks you might think you had stumbled into a black-and-white film. That mentality extends to the story, as well, which is decidedly alien-free and instead digs its heels into more realistic creepiness, including kidnapping, organ harvesting, and pedophilia. Carter and his cowriter Frank Spotnitz, a longtime scribe and executive producer for the series, have concocted what is essentially a lengthy “monster of the week” episode, although the monster turns out to be decidedly human.
Shaggy and bearded, Fox Mulder is closer than ever to becoming a parody of all the paranoid conspiracy theorists who took to The X Files with such fervor, but as always Duchovny brings a much-needed layer of humanity and humor to what could be an essentially grim character. Still wanting to believe in everything that is unbelievable, Mulder is brought out of hiding at the behest of FBI agent Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet), who is a kind of interstitial character see-sawing between Mulder’s open-minded curiosity and Scully’s rigid scientism. The FBI has lost one of its own agents and is currently following the lead of Father Joe (Billy Connelly), a disgraced Catholic priest who claims to have psychic powers, but may be a fraud engaged in some twisted ruse as a means of making amends for his past sins.
Meanwhile, Scully, who is now working as a pediatric surgeon, is caught up in her own “I want to believe” dilemma as she struggles with whether or not to perform a series of painful and experimental surgeries on a dying child who everyone else in the hospital thinks should be allowed to die in peace. Her struggle in trying to rectify her rational, scientific mind with her fervid desire to save this child makes for a compelling moral dilemma, but it also ties together the series’ conflicting poles of belief versus proof, showing that science is its own religion. Like many of the series’ best episodes, The X-Files: I Want to Believe comes with a frothy philosophical bent, as characters debate the nature of God, truth, and how we can never know anything for sure, leaving us with more questions than answers.
And, while that certainly supplies plenty for viewers to chew on, the film’s real meat is the ever-evolving relationship between Mulder and Scully, whose ying and yang dispositions have seemingly hardened with the passing years, makin them seem even more right for each other. Duchovny and Anderson bring a genuine sense of exhaustion to the characters, although they run on opposing emotional trajectories, with Mulder coming to life as he digs into the new case while Scully slowly retreats from the place he wants her most: by his side. “I’m done chasing monsters in the dark,” she declares, but unlike Mulder’s fervent desire to believe in the paranormal, it is a declaration that can’t stand because those monsters will continue to chase her. If The X-Files: I Want to Believe advances the larger narrative in any substantial sense, it is only in reaffirming that these two characters need each other more than ever. Whether we really needed an entire film to assert that is best left to the fans.
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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