Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

For any fan of the television series, The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008) should be a satisfying experience. More like an extended episode from the series than a feature-length film, it builds on and embellishes the themes and character relationships of the series, specifically Fox Mulder's compulsion to believe that "something is out there" and Scully's conflicted struggle between rationality and faith. It also builds on the romantic relationship between the two that was increasingly implied in the television series and made explicit only in the final episodes. There is an allusion to the child Scully had with Fox, and which she gave up. There is an allusion to Mulder's lost sister, supposedly abducted by aliens during his childhood—the primal event of his life. The most satisfying aspect of the film is the fact that the essential characters of Fox and Scully remain intact, and that we take them up some six years after we last saw them.

Aliens have nothing to do with the plot of this film, which concerns a series of grisly killings and a psychic priest with a pedophilic past who keeps leading investigators to body parts buried in a snow-covered field. (Visually, snow is everywhere in this film). The priest's supposed psychic abilities lead the FBI to summon Mulder and Scully out of retirement. One agent, an admirer of Mulder, believes the priest is truly psychic. Other FBI agents are skeptics (the main skeptic is played by Xzibit, of Pimp My Ride fame—he is effective in his role). The film follows the efforts of the agents and of Fox and Scully to discover the killer. It also follows Scully's efforts to treat a boy suffering an apparently incurable illness, and to deal with her increasingly complicated relationship with Mulder. The film occasionally bogs down, but where it succeeds it succeeds because of its fidelity to the two main characters, Mulder and Scully.

Father Joseph Crissman, played by Billy Connolly, is in many ways the center of interest. His visions and psychic insights enable the investigators to move closer to the truth. But how does he know what he knows? Scully believes he is a fraud. The FBI agents think he is connected to the killers. Mulder, of course, wants to believe him. Does Crissman speak for God, for Satan, for the killers, for himself? This is the question the film examines. When he tells Scully "Don't give up," and when he claims he didn't know what he meant when he made the statement, she suffers a crisis concerning the sick boy she is treating, her relationship with Mulder, and with her faith. Scully for me was always the most interesting character in the series. She was seriously conflicted in her role as a medical doctor, an FBI agent, as a professional woman with a private life of her own, a medical pathologist who is also a devout Catholic. The film develops these competing aspects of her character to good effect.

Given the failure of this film at the box office, this is probably the last we will see of the X-Files. I'm sorry for that.

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