A film review by Craig J. Koban
THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE
2008, PG-13, 104 mins.
2008, PG-13, 104 mins.
Fox Mulder: David Duchovny / Dana Scully: Gillian Anderson / Dakota
Whitney: Amanda Peet /
you excuse its enormously lame title, THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE does
what all great sequels and sci-fi films do:
Firstly, this is a sequel that manages to retain its prequel’s
strengths while taking its characters into new narrative and thematic
waters (which is more refreshing than simply rehashing the same storyline
twice over). Second, the film
is in the grand tradition of the best of sci-fi, which places its emphasis
squarely on thoughtful characters and meaningful themes that have familiar
echoes to viewers.
even more significant is how this film goes so rigidly against the curve
of (a) the types of summer films that are released these times every year
and (b) the type of X-FILES film many fans and I were expecting.
The first X-FILES movie, FIGHT THE FUTURE (okay, these films have
lousy titles) from 1998 was largely enraptured with the continuation
the TV series’ long standing alien mythological story arc (it was also a
adaptation in the sense that it was made at the height of the show’s
popularity, not several years after it went off the air).
The show went off the air years ago, so conventional wisdom kind of
dictates that the further exploits of FBI agents Mulder and Scully would
continue on from the story angle of the TV series and first film.
so intriguing about I WANT TO BELIEVE is how it completely avoids telling
yet another extraterrestrial storyline involving these characters.
Instead of being the visual effects heavy, large scale and big
budgeted sci-fi summer escapist film that too many similar seasonal films
are, I WANT TO BELIEVE is much more satisfyingly subdued and low key.
What we get is a thoughtful and involving procedural, a murder
mystery, and a creepy and evocative thriller with emphasis on drama and
credit must go to series creator Chris Carter, the Godfather of this whole
X-FILES universe, who impeccably understands that the best way to make
another film is to not slavishly repeat formulas and routine plot
elements. In this sense, I
WANT TO BELIEVE does much more than standard, run-of-the-mill movie
spin-offs of TV shows rarely do: it
takes the staple characters and plunges them into newer and more
worthwhile thematic waters. Carter’s
original intentions here were to make an X-FILES film that would both
appease hardcore X-FILES-aholics without alienating them while – even
more tricky – making a film that would be readily accessible to the
virginal series fan that are completely unfamiliar with the unrelentingly
dense storylines of the TV show. I
have seen perhaps no more than a dozen episodes of the TV series, but this
in no way impeded my enjoyment of this X-FILES film.
Much like many of the respected episodes of the TV show, I WANT TO
BELIEVE is a wholly satisfying and surprisingly involving standalone
thriller that both obsessed and lay fans of this series will like.
That’s decidedly difficult to pull off effectively.
this film does not abscond from the staple ingredients from its famous TV
antecedent. Yes, we still
have Fox Mulder, the staunch believer in anything paranormal or alien, and
his partner, Dana Scully, who serves as the pragmatic foil to Mulder and
uses her intellect and icy deductive reasoning to find logical
explanations for the supernatural occurrences that Mulder professes a
belief in. They have a richly
observed yin-yang relationship and their beliefs almost benefit from and
are strengthened by their respective resolve in them. At its heart, I WANT TO BELIEVE continues to develop and
foster this character dynamic, but it changes the settings and story
film takes place six years after the events of the last episode of the TV
series. Mulder (David
Duchovny, playing a blend of cocky bravado and soft spoken integrity to
great effect) and Scully (Gillian Anderson, equally strong willed and out
spoken) have long since left the FBI and the bureau’s X-Files division
behind them. Despite the fact
that they still refer to one another by their last names, they are
intimate with one another and live together in a secluded house.
The two are lovers and this is clearly hinted at here, but the heat
in Mulder and Scully’s interplay is not sexualized; they feed off of
each other’s abilities to challenge one another on an intellectual
level. Since both have left
the agency, Fox essentially lives the life of a hermit in his home and
still collects clippings of the otherworldly whereas Scully works as a
doctor at a Catholic hospital.
this is an X FILES movie, and nothing truly normal
ever occurs with these two people.
It is revealed that a pedophilic former priest named Father Joe
(Billy Connelly, really strong here) has developed
visions from…well…we are not quite sure.
During the film’s wonderfully realized opening moments, we see a
squadron of FBI agents headed up by Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) and Mosley
Drummy (Alvin “Xzbit” Joiner) being lead by the priest across a vast
pain of frozen ice and stone. At
one point, and without warning, Joe drops to his knees and decries, “This is the place!” Rest
assured, the FBI do dig up a body part.
this old coot a real psychic?
the more simple explanation, is he really a fraud that had something to do
with the dead person found? On
one hand, it’s mighty easy to see how this man appears guilty (he has a
shady and deplorable criminal record, plus he knew the location of the
body with pinpoint perfect accuracy). However,
there is definitely something exceedingly eerie about how this man could
walk across a mile of snow-covered field, without anything apparent to
demark the location of the body, and…well…locate
of course, sets up the quintessential X-FILES storyline:
Whitney decides that there is something more to this old man that
meets the eye and decides to re-enlist Mulder back into the FBI to assist
them in their efforts to locate a missing agent.
If Mulder does help them successfully then all of his sins with the bureau will be expunged.
Mulder is, as the TV show demonstrated, a man with a fanatical
focus on all things weird and alien, so the thought of getting proof of a real
psychic at work is
intriguing. Scully, of the
other hand, wants none of it. She
sees Joe, at face value, as a dirty and sick minded old man that can’t
clearly be the real deal with his psychic powers.
Scully simply can’t bring herself to believe the man, but Mulder
sure seems keen on doing so, especially after he witnesses the priest
collapsing with tears of blood streaming from his eyes. Hmmmm….
clearly puts strains of Mulder and Scully’s relationship.
Interestingly, Scully does not partake in much of Mulder and the
FBI’s investigation of the missing agent, seeing as she has her heart
firmly within a rather touching subplot involving a very sick young boy
she is treating. Now, the
plot involving the dying boy does not directly link itself to that of the
murder mystery within the film, per se, but it’s crucial for defining
Scully’s growing distance she places herself apart from her past life as
a FBI investigator into matters beyond explanation.
Even more crucial, her emotional connection to the sickly boy helps
frame one of film’s central themes of difficult choice.
boy has a terminal brain disorder and will most likely die. Scully has done the research and knows of a treatment that
has had decent results, but the approach could lead to more suffering for
the boy. Ethically, as a
doctor, she wants to do everything she can to save the boy. Morally, as a person, she does not want the boy
to continue to be in agony. The
treatment involves a stem cell procedure, which is in direct theological
opposition to the faith of the hospital’s head, Father Ybarra, who later
makes the decision to transfer the boy out of the hospital where he can
spend his last few days dying
this provides for a very intriguing dilemma for Scully: Does she renounce her own strong religious views and proceed
with the excruciating surgeries that could
save the boy or does she
disregard medical science and let the boy die without prolonging his
misery?. To help reinforce her
choosing of a correct path, she confronts Father Joe, whom she despises,
because maybe…just maybe…he has some psychic visions of what will to
become of the boy. When Joe
insists that he has none, this places Scully is a tricky corner.
She does not believe that Joe can help Mulder and the FBI with
cracking their case, but Mulder does. Moreover,
Mulder's association with Joe is severely hurting their relationship and, in
turn, is making it difficult for Scully to validate Mulder’s continuing
cooperation with a man she sees as a perverted criminal.
more about the plot would spoil I WANT TO BELIEVE.
If anything, the film’s story is taut, tightly constructed,
thrilling in the right dosages and places, and is unexpectedly thought
provoking. What I liked the
most about it was how it dwelled thoughtfully on issues of science versus
faith and how the conflict between the two deeply affects the choices of
one particular character. It
is I WANT TO BELIEVE’S introspection with its character's crisis
of conscience that she goes through that make the film stand far apart.
Then there is the ominous and polarizing character of the
child-molesting priest, whose abilities
serve as a lightning rod for the further challenges that the
characters deal with. For
example, Scully certainly feels that Joe is a “devil” with no psychic
abilities, but Mulder looks past his obvious offenses and sees the
practical assistance he has given to the FBI.
Father Joe were the devil,” he asks Scully at one point, “why would he
say the opposite of what the devil might say?”
There are no aliens in this X-FILES film. Nor or there any monsters, but you certainly can consider the
reprehensible and scary-as-hell actions by the human villains of the film
- when revealed in the film’s very tense and terrifying third act - as
monstrous. Again, I WANT TO
BELIEVE is not about escapist spectacle like the first X-FILE film focused
on. This film is shot with a
real taste and economy, from both a story and aesthetic level. Instead of using heavy-handed CGI effects and dime-a-dozen
tricks to make another banal sci-fi action picture, writer/director Carter
goes for the low-key sheen of an intelligent and moody drama and thriller.
Perhaps even more impressive are the performances.
Connelly gives an effectively unsettling performance playing a
troubling man that may – or may not be – what he appears.
Duchovny and Anderson slide back into their parts with little
difficulty and still have great chemistry, but Anderson really stands
apart here with a riveting and heart-rending performance that has a real
palpable emotional resonance. You
feel for her plight and her disconcerting quandary her character is placed
In the end, I believed in this second X-FILES big screen film adaptation of the classic TV series. It still tells a compellingly invigorating story with obvious paranormal trappings, but I WANT TO BELIEVE’s real achievement is how it eschews what summer films often provide, not to mention that it’s fairly daring with its approach to do away with the often-overshadowing alien-conspiracy arc of the TV show and first film. Yes, the film appeals to X-FILES fans in the way we still get agents Mulder and Scully looking into dark corners that involve vile creatures and unexplained phenomenon, but I WANT TO BELIEVE is human centric. It skillfully ruminates on and engaging us thoroughly with its characters and themes. Instead of explosions and the threat of alien invasion, this is a more accessible and entertaining X-FILE story for how it keeps everything restrained and discreet. I WANT TO BELIEVE may not be what people are expecting from an X-FILE film…but maybe that’s a good thing.
Or...maybe it's...a conspiracy?