“An Apostate Agent” or “Faith in the Unknown”

Like The Simpsons Movie, one can’t help leaving The X-Files: I Want to Believe feeling like they just paid good money to watch something they should have watched on television free (say a drawn out two-parter in the middle of season one when the chemistry between the lead duo wasn’t quite certain).

Having been off the air for six years, the premise of the show was deceptively simple: an FBI agent, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), was consigned to the Siberia of the intelligence community, investigating marginalized, unsolved cases deemed X-Files. Fellow agent, Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) was tasked with applying her scientific background to keep her partner in check, as he was prone to make leaps of faith by assessing paranormal involvement to many of their cases.

Keep in mind: their dynamic was part of their appeal.

The X-Files were basically made up of two kinds of shows: the mytharc episodes and the monster of the week episodes. With The X-Files: I Want to Believe, Chris Carter has wisely chosen to ditch the storylines related to the underlying mythology of the series. To wit, that aliens live among us and are part of a colonizing effort. During the course of their make-it-up-as-they-go-along mytharc storylines, the mythology had become strained to the point where disbelief couldn’t be sustained.

Wisely, the writers have eschewed the mythology in favor of the other kind of episode (it’s easier to think of this movie as another episode). The monster of the week episodes are what drew in the casual fans of the show, the ones who didn’t as slavishly follow the mythology as closely as the other X-Philes. So there’s no complaining about the idea behind the premise of the movie. The movie itself, on the other hand, leaves a bit to be desired.

With Scully and Mulder there was little fun and less spark or sense of the cool monster beaters of old. Instead, there is too much of the last two seasons brand of serious crap lingering. Maybe the creators were setting up a return to their familiar dynamic, where we have two people who love each other dearly but can’t work out as a couple. Their respective single-minded drives being the main obstacle in why they wouldn’t work as a couple. Regardless, it came across as an uncomfortable peeking in on the happily ever after of old friends you’d come to know only to see them not work out.

Then there’s the plot itself.

Brought in by X-Files: The Next Generation members, Xhibit and Amanda Peet (Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip), whose partnership loosely mirrors Scully and Mulder’s, the team investigates the case of a missing FBI agent. Aided by a psychic ex-priest, Father Joseph Crissman (Billy Connelly doing a poor Clyde Bruckman impersonation), convicted of “buggering 37 altar boys”, there is a very human evil purveying in organ harvesting. In other words, there is little paranormal, hardly any X to speak of, about this case, which plays out more like a bad episode of Criminal Minds.

Keeping the television structure, the B story arc was even less compelling. Scully, in her new life as a doctor, has bonded with a patient, a Christian (no, seriously, the character’s name is oh-so-subtly named Christian Fearon, played by Marco Niccoli) in need of stem cell treatment in order to prevent his untimely demise.

However, the themes and ideas in the movie are worth considering.

“Let’s just say I want to believe.” –Mulder

Mulder had an unwavering faith in not only the paranormal in general, but in the existence of extraterrestrials in particular. Scully was the skeptic, always looking for scientific, rational explanations for the phenomena they dealt with. Ironically, when it came to matters of spirituality, their roles were reversed. In either case, both faiths are challenged by the evidence.

We want to believe, but we don’t necessarily know in what or in whom. Anyway of knowing, all truth journeys, begin with a leap of faith. Whether to trust in our senses, empirical evidence, and measurable/reproducible data; or to assume that this is not all there is to life, that there is more to us than body and consciousness including a spiritual dimension to the universe beyond our senses.

“Try proving that one.” –Scully

Science and spirituality are both truth journeys, ultimate seeking answers using different methods, and don’t necessarily have to be at war with one another. Faith isn’t the same as scientific theory, in fact, the closest thing you could equate faith to is a (an assumed) presupposition. However, in spirituality as in science, faith/assumed presuppositions still need to be questioned and tested (with how you perform such tests being different. With faith, the testing, results, and analysis are going to be experiential and, frankly, subject to interpretation (probably within a faith paradigm).

“You could be right, Scully. But what if you’re wrong?” –Mulder

Faith is a tricky and tenuous thing, easy to misplace. Ironically, questioning and continually testing it helps in not misplacing one’s faith. Faith often fears uncertainty/doubt when it shouldn’t since these are all signs of people thinking through their faith. In fact, faith can be a relatively simple math problem: History/evidence + personal experience + intuition = faith.

“Maybe that’s the answer: Don’t give up.” –Mulder

Father Crissman and Mulder find themselves in very similar situations. Both were cast out and excommunicated by the institution they loved and served so well and faithfully (one by their own hand, the other by the institution itself). Yet they both seek re-engagement with their respective institutions, hoping through them to connect to their higher belief pursuit.

Scully, on the other hand, finds herself asking the hard questions, wrestling wi
th the problem of evil, wondering why God would allow anyone to be born only to expose them to endless suffering, which leaver her “lying here cursing God for all those cruelties.” Each of them wondering where the detestable desires come from, even if they concede that they don’t come from God. Most times, in answer to their questions, all they see is through a mirror darkly.

“I acted on that belief.” –Scully

Maybe in the search for those answers, faith can be found and refined. In the end, the true measure of faith is in the doing, letting what we do define us and our faith. In the mean time, sometimes all we’re left with is the simple prayer “Lord I believe, help me with my unbelief.”

“We want to put our faith in God now.” –Margaret Fearon (Carrie Ruscheinsky)

Written by series creator Chris Carter and his main lieutenant, Frank Spotnitz, The X-Files: I want to Believe promises to be a stand alone suspense thriller out of the horror mold as it seeks a new generation of fans. Sure, they’ve lost the sexual tension in favor of a bond of love, but that’s not the biggest hurdle to enjoying this movie. Mulder and Scully are working the X-Files from the outside looking in, often wandering around aimlessly looking depressed (and looking their age). If there is a next go around, and that’s a mighty big “if”, they need to seriously get back to basics and give the fans what they want. Or at the very least, a good stand alone movie.

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