A TELEVISION SHOW RETURNS TO
THE BIG SCREEN
published July 25,
X-Files: I Want to Believe
now playing nationwide
The unexpected thing about The X-Files: I Want to Believe is that it’s Scully’s picture.
It’s as if all those X-Philes who haven’t
exhaled since the series’ 2002 end (and let’s face it - a couple years before that) haven’t been awaiting more spaceships, black helicopters,
and oily goo. Rather they’ve been waiting to see Dana Scully perform brain surgery and wrestle with faith.
This should bring the popular nineties
television show full circle. It started as FBI agent Fox Mulder dashing into the paranoid and paranormal, as the sensibly-dressed skeptic
pulled the leash. Certainly the film’s plot recycles from the series’ crop-circle constellation – a missing FBI agent, a psychic priest, an
urban legend. Yet these are manly McGuffins, making way for a distinctly feminine touch. The result is an unconventional relationship drama in
which man and woman argue about epistemology rather than chores.
The female touch has its upside. Scully
evolved into the heart of the series, balancing faith, science and the unknown. From an acting perspective, it trades up, too. David
Duchovny’s acting appeal has always extended to the exact dimensions of Fox Mulder. But Gillian Anderson is a gifted actress. Her film
performances, such as Terrance Davies’ The House of Mirth, attest. Why she didn’t go on to win an
Oscar is a
Hollywood mystery. Even a little older, Scully remains the smart girl’s role model and the thinking man’s heartthrob.
The show created one of the longest
effective will-they-or-won’t–they relationships in television history. The secret was that they already were. The matrimony was their mutual
work, care, and fascination. Why wouldn’t it be? When you spend your eternal honeymoon saving
each other from vampires, who would settle for the conventional thrill of sex? It’s hard to think of something more romantic.
Yet by denying the fans an alien storyline,
the film also denies its key relationship its sauce. Instead, the film’s tone is tender, almost intimate. Amping down the chills, director
Chris Carter, the series’ creator, works on familiar X-Files’ themes of paranoia, obsession, the
relationship of power, belief, and reality. By including the domestic drama, he adds a question at the heart of his other forgotten show,
“Millenium.” Once you’ve looked into the abyss, how do you come home to an ordinary life? It makes for an autumnal feel.
In a Roswell obsessed decade, few
television shows so captured the zeitgeist. A UFO-obsessed master FBI agent with startling childhood memories. A wavering Catholic rationalist
sent to keep him in line. Little gray men. Men in black. Paranoia and sexual tension in the FBI basement. Mulder and Scully even might have
accounted for the unbalanced federal budget. Together, they racked up the largest worker’s comp bill in American labor history. Each hospital
in the country should dedicate a Mulder-and-Scully wing.
Due to the show’s quality, any re-visit
spurs good memories. For a while they are earned. The first half of the film is darkly energetic and crisply suspenseful, tingling spines in
its endless snow. It also has things missing from normal summer entertainment – a character-driven story, a strong female lead, an
intellectual bend to its silliness. Often it reminds you of why the series broke so much new ground. But the bottom line is this – if the
story were an episode, it wouldn’t stand out. There’s a better effort for the having. It wouldn’t be fair to allow them to do less.
kevinbowen @ stageandcinema.com