- Chris Carter
- David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Xzibit, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly, Mitch Pileggi
- 104 min.
- Release Date
I Want to Believe seems an appropriate subtitle for the second movie in The X-Files franchise. Not only does it refer to the UFO poster displayed in the office of Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), but it also suggests that there are vast leaps taken by Mulder and his onetime partner from the television show, Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). After all, belief in the FBI agents’ explored supernatural world doesn’t come easy. But that’s the great thing about the duo’s dynamic. One is led by his belief, the other falls back on her science and medical training, no matter how often her disciplines are debunked or outwitted.
But hold on, Mulder and Scully are no longer FBI agents. The series ended in 2003, badly, with Mulder on the run from the FBI and Scully in spiritual limbo. When the film begins, six years have passed. She’s practicing medicine in a hospital; he sits in a room with a beard and collects newspaper clippings of unexplained phenomena, bored, eating sunflower seeds, pencils lodged into the ceiling tile. And despite their many years together, they still call each other “Mulder” and “Scully”. Scully begins to question her faith yet again when Agents Drummy (Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner) and Whitney (Amanda Peet) ask her to elicit Mulder’s help on a case. As we’d expect, it’s a unique situation: The chief informant in the case of a kidnapped FBI agent turns out to be a psychic, and a former priest no less, one convicted of several counts of pedophilia. Father Joe (Scottish actor Billy Connolly) claims he can see the victims in his mind’s eye, and after leading agents to a lopped-off arm in the middle of a desolate, snow-covered field, Mulder believes him. Scully can’t see past his crimes, refusing to believe that God would provide such a sick man with the gift of “second sight”.
Scully begins to question her faith yet again when Agents Drummy (Alvin “Xzibit” Joiner) and Whitney (Amanda Peet) ask her to elicit Mulder’s help on a case. As we’d expect, it’s a unique situation: The chief informant in the case of a kidnapped FBI agent turns out to be a psychic, and a former priest no less, one convicted of several counts of pedophilia. Father Joe (Scottish actor Billy Connolly) claims he can see the victims in his mind’s eye, and after leading agents to a lopped-off arm in the middle of a desolate, snow-covered field, Mulder believes him. Scully can’t see past his crimes, refusing to believe that God would provide such a sick man with the gift of “second sight”.
I’ve never understood Scully’s stubborn spirituality and dedication to religion, especially when week after week during the show’s run Mulder demonstrated for her that the world is much more complex than any faith might claim. And yet, she’s so angered when Father Joe quotes her scripture. In the face of alien abductions, flying saucers, liver-eating weirdoes, el chupacabra, vampires, and all other manner of supernatural forces exposed in their investigations, she remains blindly devoted to her spirituality. I suppose that’s commendable, from a certain point of view, but it always seemed contrary to the natural sci-fi progression of the show’s arc. Here it seems to be all anyone wants to talk about.
An ongoing, melodramatic subplot keeps popping up wherein Scully attempts to save a boy dying of a terminal disease. Her bosses want to move the boy out of their hospital and into a facility for incurable patients, as he’s a lost cause. But she’s adamant that he can be healed with more radical treatments. And so, she’s hesitant to get involved in the Father Joe case with Mulder, as her thoughts are centered on hope, and the concept of a pedophile communicating with God is anything but hopeful.
Where the film falters is the arrangement of its two stars. X-Philes have waited for years to see the twosome back together again, but co-writer and director Chris Carter curiously keeps them apart. Mulder pursues the case with his unrelenting confidence that Father Joe is something extraordinary. Scully spends most of her time in the hospital watching over her patient, never really invested in the murder mystery going on around her. I kept wondering when they’d fall back into their comfortable roles of practiced detectives, but that doesn’t happen. Longtime fans will be disappointed.
What works are the film’s thriller elements (however recessive they may be to its theological discussions), namely the scenes dedicated to the supposed serial killer. Why does Father Joe see dogs barking in his visions, and why would there be traces of animal tranquilizer found in the human remains? How is this pedophilic psychic priest involved? And if he is involved, why does he guide them right to severed appendages frozen in the ice? All are questions that draw us in and keep us interested, laboring in unison with the film’s snowy, bleak atmosphere and dark visual tone. When they’re answered, the outcome is shocking in that exceptional way the show so often was.
I’m attempting to approach this review from two angles: 1) As a film critic, and 2) from the highly subjective position of a devoted X-Phile. But the result doesn’t quite succeed from either perspective. There are too many references to the show’s last season when Duchovny had all but left and the episodes were muddled and haphazard. I’m thinking specifically when the film mentions William, the son Mulder and Scully gave up to protect from the scheming government; there’s also some discussion about Mulder being on the run from the FBI and pardoned when he agrees to help in the movie’s case. This is a problem from both angles, because, on the one hand, these references go over the heads of unfamiliar viewers, on the other hand, they’re dwelling on events from the show’s cringe-inducing ninth season, which most X-Philes despise fervently.
I want to believe that this film will make enough money for Carter to complete a third movie. He’s said, should this one do well and earn back its $35 million budget, that another X-Files film would hit theaters around 2012 (to coincide with the Mayan year of the Apocalypse), and that the plot would be based in the show’s alien invasion storyline. I want to believe that die-hard fans will support their passion and race to theaters to see this film, if only for the promise of something (hopefully) better down the road. I want to believe that there are still quality X-Files stories to tell, even if this one wasn’t. I want to believe this, but like the protagonists in the movie, my beliefs are conflicted with doubt and reservation.