I suspect many will fault The X-Files: I Want to Believe for being a glorified television episode, which would be an odd criticism, given that The X-Files was one of the most cinematic shows of its time. In any case, I’d thoroughly disagree with the assessment. For one, there’s nothing remotely glorified about the film. Its promotion was virtually absent, and the intrigue is of minuscule proportion by Hollywood standards. More importantly, this story could never have aired on the Fox Network because it discusses moral issues with subtlety and compassion. In case you’re wondering, yes, I’m making fun of their news channel.
As the title suggests, I Want to Believe is all about faith. However, the film doesn’t limit its scope to religion or even spirituality. Rather it explores that strange mix of humility, stubbornness, and irrational hope that allows men and women to persevere. Consider the subplot involving a dying boy whom Scully (Gillian Anderson), now a respected surgeon, wishes to treat using a painful stem cell procedure. She has faith in the experimental technology; the hospital’s Catholic administration does not. As a result, the parents are forced to either put their faith in Scully or focus on their son’s quality of life. Surprisingly, the storyline never compromises, and its conclusion is devoid of easy answers.
I’m getting ahead of myself though. Fans may recall the mess in which the series finale left the franchise: the fates of several characters were left unclear; Mulder (David Duchovny) became a fugitive after learning of a forthcoming alien invasion; and the F.B.I. shut down its X-Files unit, which specialized in investigating the paranormal and embarrassing Assistant Director Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) with outlandish accusations. Though it addresses a few of these loose ends, the second X-Files movie wisely keeps away from little green men and government conspiracies. This self-contained story is closer in spirit to early episodes of the show. In other words, don’t expect to find out what happened to Agents Doggett and Reyes.
Taking place six years after the television series ended, I Want to Believe deals instead with severed limbs, a missing F.B.I. agent, and a priest (Billy Connolly) who claims to have visions relating to the case. The latter also happens to be a convicted child molester. Is he playing some sort of con game? If so, how does he know the exact location of the frozen body parts? Leading the investigation is Agent Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet), who offers to exonerate Mulder in exchange for his counsel. She has faith in his expertise; her partner, Agent Mosley Drummy (Alvin Xzibit Joiner), does not. Soon another woman is kidnapped, and the story delves into darker, more bizarre territory than initially apparent.
An interesting subplot has Mulder pleading with Scully to join the investigation, but his former partner is reluctant, partly because of the new life she’s made for herself since leaving the F.B.I. and partly because of her hatred of the pedophiliac priest: he wants to believe God can forgive his sins; she does not. Scully also fears the damage another X-File could do to Mulder’s psyche. She thinks he’s still chasing after his younger sister, who was abducted by aliens as a child. What she doesn’t understand is that Mulder has long come to terms with his sister’s death, but the latter has become a symbol of his own faith, which can best be described as a willingness to believe what others won’t.
The complex bond Mulder and Scully share is what drives the film. Many have argued that The X-Files jumped the shark when the leads became a couple, but this latest chapter proves the problem wasn’t their union so much as the melodrama that resulted from it. To this day, I cringe whenever I recall the image of Scully looking up at the sky and screaming, “Muuulder!” Obviously, the movie portrays a more mature version of the relationship. The long-time friends are still very much in love, but deep personal issues are keeping them apart as Scully both admires and rejects Mulder’s stubborn devotion to supernatural truths. She wants to believe; she simply can’t bring herself to do so. This, of course, is what Mulder treasures most about her.
Though it makes an intriguing character study, the film falters in some of its thriller elements. We’re not given nearly enough information about the missing women to truly care what happens to them, and director Chris Carter plays the more grotesque aspects of the case extremely close to the vest, which is sure to frustrate many horror fans. Another problem is the sheer stupidity of the new F.B.I. investigators, Agents Whitney and Drummy. The latter never call for backup; they ignore distress calls out of spite; and one of them even stops for a chat while in pursuit of a killer. Forget the mysterious visions and frozen appendages. I want to know how these two nincompoops made it into the Bureau.
Still, The X-Files: I Want to Believe made me care about characters for which I’d just about lost all patience, and I suspect this was what series mainstays Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz had in mind when they wrote the screenplay: to reposition the franchise’s heroes, Mulder and Scully, into a workable status quo for future instalments. Mind you, this new chapter is far from perfect, and it comes at a particularly awkward time for the series. I’m not certain the second X-Files theatrical feature will garner enough momentum to justify a third entry, but the movie raises thoughtful questions about faith, forgiveness, and the lengths to which one should go to save a human life. For this reason alone, I find myself wanting to believe.