The X-Files: I Want to Believe
Aliens. Fluke monsters. Mysterious, wrinkly chain-smokers.
None of them stood a chance back in the day—thanks to FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. Through nine goose bumpy television seasons, the daring duo took on monstrous golems, killer cockroaches and nefarious governmental experiments, trying to make their small-screen world a little safer and our living rooms a little scarier.
Eventually, the bad guys won: The agents' FBI work was discredited, Mulder went into hiding and Scully became a real doctor. By Season 9 of The X-Files, no one much cared, though. Almost everyone had stopped watching. The cigarette-smoking man—the Machiavellian machinist behind assassinations, government abductions and the Buffalo Bills' four straight Super Bowl losses—surely wheezed a last, bitter laugh at their expense.
But now the FBI decides it needs Mulder, after all. Seems one of their own has gone missing—kidnapped by do-badders who, curiously, left an arm behind as a souvenir. The agency's only link to the killers is Father Joe, a pedophilic former priest who is getting some really disturbing psychic vibes. Is this guy for real? Or just weird? The FBI wants Mulder to find out.
Mulder warms to the cold case, but Scully is reluctant to help him. Seems she's liking life without preternatural drama. When given a choice between spending her evenings in mortal terror or watching American Idol, the decision seems kinda obvious to her these days.
"I'm done chasing monsters in the dark," she says.
And that's about all we can tell you about this film. At least, all we can say without first giving you a big, fat ... [Spoiler Warning]
Mulder and Scully care about each other, and they're willing to go to some pretty significant lengths to save each other from peril and death. Both like to save other people as well, including those victims apparently under the sway of the movie's body snatchers. Scully, being a doctor and all, has other folks to save, too. To save a boy who suffers from a mysterious and usually fatal disease, she embarks on a risky and painful medical procedure. She, and the boy's parents, are fighting both long odds and the establishment. Even Scully's boss—a Catholic priest—says it's time to give up the fight.
"We are here to heal the sick, not prolong the ordeal of the dying," he says.
The procedure, by the way, involves the injection of stem cells—a red-button topic for many Christians. It's important to note, however, that the film does not indicate whether these cells are embryonic in nature, and information on the actual disease (Sandhoff disease) indicates that some children have been treated with stem cells from umbilical cords, not embryos.
The movie's title—"I Want to Believe"—is no accident.
"It's a natural title," says X-Files creator Chris Carter. "It's a story that involves the difficulties in mediating faith and science. 'I Want to Believe.' It really does suggest Mulder's struggle with his faith."
Mulder, of course, has more faith in aliens and the paranormal than in any sort of commonly understood God. He wants to believe that his sister (supposedly abducted by aliens, and the catalyst for much of the TV series) is still alive, though he suspects she's dead. He wants to believe he can save the kidnap victims. Most importantly, he wants to believe Father Joe is a legitimate psychic—not someone who's in cahoots with the evildoers.
Scully's a different matter. A nominal Catholic, the doctor has massive problems with the team placing trust in a priest who seems to have fallen far from his faith. She practically rolls her eyes when she sees him praying for salvation. When Father Joe talks of his visions, Scully says, "Maybe it's not God doing the sending." When he references Proverbs 25:2, she's incensed that the pedophile would dare quote scripture to her.
The film seems not to track so much Mulder's quest for belief as it does Scully's, then, as she tries to discern what she should do for the boy—who, probably not coincidentally, is named Christian. The Catholic hospital in which she works is blanketed with crosses, and a huge, overtly religious stained-glass window is the backdrop for at least one soul-searching scene. She tells Mulder that she's angry with God for bringing a child into the world under such seemingly hopeless circumstances.
Father Joe, for his part, seems to think his sexual appetites were given to him by God. He says he castrated himself at 26 and admits to Scully he's filled with self-loathing. "All I ever wanted was to serve God," he says.
All these spiritual storylines come together in one three-word quote: "Don't give up." Father Joe, who spoke them to Scully, says he has no idea where those words came from or what they mean. Scully at first thinks they pertain to tracking down the kidnappers (with which help comes from the previously mentioned Proverbs verse), but later comes to believe that, perhaps, God doesn't want her to give up on the sick boy.
Scully and Mulder—a largely platonic couple in the TV series, albeit one with loads of sexual tension—are now an (unmarried) item. We see them in bed together, Mulder naked from the waist up, giving each other quick smooches. On another occasion they share a passionate and lingering kiss.
They are not the film's only couple. Turns out, the kidnappers are gay lovers (married in the state of Massachusetts, we're told), and we see one of them talking affectionately to the other. Another very bizarre twist: One of these men is perpetually dying, and the whole reason they keep kidnapping folks is so he can get full-body transplants. Let me repeat, for clarity's sake: full-body transplants. These bodies are apparently sometimes men, sometimes women, and sometimes—in a pinch—a stitched-together mash-up of both genders.
Father Joe, we're told, "b-ggered" 37 altar boys—including one of the kidnappers. He lives in a colony with other pedophiles, and he tells Scully they all hate one another, just as they hate themselves. Mulder makes a few off-color quips about Father Joe's predilections.
A bit more about those transplants: The operations take place in a dank, Saw-like operating room and, at one point, we see the kidnapper's head sitting in a bucket of ice, waiting to be stitched to a new body. The body "donor" is in a big pool of iced liquid, needles and tubes attached to her neck. We see the tubes engorge with blood and a doctor beginning to slice through her neck before he's made to stop.
We're indirectly told that these operations have been going on for months, possibly years. The FBI finds a cache of body parts. And at one point Mulder lies semi-conscious beside a white, decapitated corpse. One of the kidnappers carries a head in a soft cooler. And FBI agents find a severed arm (we see the bones sticking out) buried in the snow.
A two-headed monstrosity of a dog attacks Mulder. Audiences see black-and-white photos of dog body parts sewn together in various ways, the result, we're told, of Soviet experimentation. We're informed that these creatures sometimes lived for weeks.
It's all quite gruesome, at times more horror movie than FBI crime thriller. Also: We see one guy get shredded a bit with a garden tool, a character fall from a great height to her death, two terribly jarring car crashes (including one in which a kidnapper breaks the driver's window and pulls her forcibly from the car), a few long needles and multiple characters being injected in the neck with animal tranquilizers. Guns are fired. Victims are locked in boxes.
Crude or Profane Language
Three s-words. God's and Jesus' names are each abused once or twice. Crude words include "a--" and "h---."
Drug and Alcohol Content
We see a table piled with pill bottles in Father Joe's apartment. He also smokes—but considering he has lung cancer and, perhaps, dies from it by movie's end, it's a far from glamorous depiction of the habit.
Other Negative Elements
The X-Files series was an iconic touchstone of television history. Though it never pulled in stunning ratings, it won a slew of Emmys and was, for its rabid audience, the ultimate definition of "must-see TV." For Carter, this second X-Files movie (but the first one he directed) gave him an opportunity to re-examine the dynamics that made the thing so popular.
"[Hopefully] you can look back at [the series] and realize that it's not just a scary show, it's not just a suspense thriller," Carter told smithsonian.com. "It's a show about two people who have built-in personal conflicts. One is a medical doctor, a scientist who is a religious person of the Catholic faith. The other one is a person of no particular religious faith who has a great passionate belief in something that I'll call spiritual or metaphysical, which is tantamount to a religious belief. And so you've got these warring ideas inside the characters and you've got them together in a way that, for me, addresses and asks a lot of the important questions about life itself."
Carter clearly wants you to believe. But how that belief manifests itself doesn't much concern him. In other words, the truth is out there, but this film won't get you any closer to it.
I didn't walk out of the theater pondering the meaning of life or the nature of belief. I was thinking more about that pedophilic priest, the dismembered visages, the cache of body parts, that two-headed dog and when, exactly, it was that Mulder and Scully got together. Not that most people really care that much anymore.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
David Duchovny as Fox Mulder; Gillian Anderson as Dana Scully; Billy Connolly as Father Joseph Crissman
Chris Carter ( )
20th Century Fox