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Movie Review: The X-Files – I Want to Believe

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Mulder: Scully? Why would he say that? "Don't give up." Why would he say such a thing to you?

Scully: I think that was clearly meant for you, Mulder.

Mulder: He didn't say it to me. He said it to you. If Father Joe were the devil, why would he say the opposite of what the devil might say? Maybe that's the answer, the larger answer. Don't give up.

Can a summer movie containing no car chases, no explosions, no larger-than-life monsters still succeed? Yes, according to director Chris Carter and writer Frank Spotnitz, if the movie is The X-Files: I Want to Believe. Replacing the special effects-driven drumbeat of the summer blockbuster with the drama of people wanting to believe in something greater than themselves, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are brought together again to find the truth behind strange disappearances in snowbound, rural West Virginia (though actually filmed in Canada). Along the way, they must come to a greater understanding of their own truths: the ones that drive both of them to never give up.

For Mulder, the truth is out there, waiting to be revealed if you keep searching for it. For Scully, the truth is deep inside, waiting for you to see it, even when those around you refuse to believe in its possibilities. For Father Joe, the truth is already known: he loathes it and desperately hopes for a greater one to take its place. For Janke and Franz, they want to believe in something the two of them can share, even if it is freaky enough to open an X-file-styled investigation; for them, the end justifies the means, and those means are gruesome. Who will be saved, damned, or remain indifferent? This is the essential quandary that every X-file poses for us as well as Mulder and Scully.

With qualities usually associated with an independent movie, the low budget X-Files: I Want to Believe flies under the frenetic, sound-blasting action radar to land with the hush of new-fallen snow. Will it be disappointing to X-Files fans looking for more chills and thrills? Probably. Should we castigate it for not delivering a larger-than-life story for a franchise that left us with a larger than average number of loose ends screaming to be tied up? Perhaps. But when you look back at the series, you notice each story, no matter how fantastic, remains focused on the ordinary people caught up in extraordinary and inexplicable circumstances. The action takes place through the characters, rather than simply to them. Carter and company stay true to this formula as they delve deep into the psyches of Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) as they struggle to keep their faith in spite of the realities that would impede it.

When women go missing under circumstances bordering on the outré, Mulder is reluctantly forgiven for his bureaucratic transgressions and is brought into the cold case to heat up some leads. Scully is enlisted to bring the bearded Mulder out of seclusion, but he will only take the case if she joins him. Like Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes, she is the whetstone for his mind; and much more, but you will need to see the movie to find out.

Putting aside his tabloid clippings of three-headed alien babies and Loch Ness Yeti monsters flying UFOs, he is soon back to butting heads with the bureau's disbelief in Father Joe's (Billy Connolly) visions, and Scully's determination to save a young boy, who is terminally ill, at the expense of helping him with the case. With Father Joe a convicted pedophile, and Scully reluctant to return to "chasing monsters in the dark," Mulder has his work cut out for him, even if the agent in charge, Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet), believes in him.

Both Duchovny and Anderson once again generate the chemistry that made the television show an engrossing excursion into the unknown every week. The isolation inherent in the expansive, snow-covered countryside evokes a mood of unknown evil quietly afoot, ready to reach out at any moment. Much of the action emanates from the interactions between Mulder and Father Joe, Scully and Father Joe's confrontations, and the stubbornness of disgruntled FBI agents paying lip service to Mulder's unwanted involvement. There is a simplicity and directness to the way everyone talks to each other. Like the police procedural Dragnet series with Jack Webb, the dialog is believable, always to the point, and carefully measured for its implications as well as its revelations. Each scene is also executed in a way that always seems to best fit its purpose. Look for the spiraling downward crane shot perspective often used in the television series.

In the opening montage we are shown an earlier abduction taking place, intertwined with flash-forwarded scenes of a clearly discernible line of black-uniformed FBI agents searching through a pristine white field as Father Joe's vision leads them to an arm buried in the snow. It is clear whose arm it is from the earlier abduction; what is not clear is why and how it got there.

Why and how and belief are important themes in the X-Files series overall, of course, but they especially come to the forefront here to help us define everyone's motivations in this movie, forcing us, along with them, to question how we would respond if faced with such events. Father Joe does not know why he "buggered thirty-seven altar boys," as Scully acidly puts it, and he wonders how God can forgive him when he cannot forgive himself. He desperately needs to believe his visions are sent by God as atonement for his sins. Scully does not understand why God would let a boy die, yet go out of his way for Father Joe. How fair is it that God gives a man like him priority over the life of her young patient? She desperately needs to believe she can save the boy, but not even his parents or anyone else believe she can. That's the challenge of faith: you must take it whole, in one big gulp; there are no taste samples for it and it is a meal for one. Mulder's faith is based on seeing how events really happened, but he can never really say why they happened. He keeps doggedly searching for that answer, even if Scully is the only one who realizes it.

Like Mulder and Scully, you will need to piece together the movie's events to explain the why and how of the abductions (at least the how). Unlike the series, loose ends are tied up to explain the connection between Father Joe's visions and the abductions. What Janke and his partner are up to is — while not the most intriguing X-file case out there — still bizarre and grotesque and worthy of your time, even if you decide to wait for the DVD. Should you see it in the theater, make sure to stay past the credits; there is a little scene hinting at further X-files to come. You just need to believe.

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About ILoz Zoc

  • Buck

    Good thoughtful review.

  • http://www.zomboscloset.com ILoz Zoc

    Thanks Buck. It helps a lot when I have a good film to review. Of course, I can get pretty cheeky with a bad film, which can be rather fun.

  • kathy1013

    Thank you so much for this insightful and fair review for “I Want to Believe.” You nailed it. Five minutes before reading your piece I had responded to another ridiculous review by someone who called the film a “flop” and I was really wondering if we had seen the same film. Your review was a breath of fresh air and I appreciate you looking deeper beyond the lack of explosions and flying cars to see what this movie really is, a very thought-provoking and intelligent movie that displays all the good things that made The X-Files the phenomenon that it was and is. We fans got it. But it has been painful watching so many critics miss the whole point and even viciously attack this film for not being what they thought it should be. Thanks again for not jumping on the bandwagon and for giving us an intelligent and thoughtful review.