The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

Written by: Patrick Kelly, CC2K TV Editor

If I Told You I Believed Would You Stop Telling Me You Want To?

ImageMore than six years after the show’s finale, and almost eight since the show really ended, the newest X-Files installment, I Want to Believe, has arrived. Though its release might seem completely random to the causal moviegoer, the fan knows it is most definitely not. Fans of the show (that I know) have been excited for months, but nearly every other person I’ve asked doesn’t seem to have a clue that a new X-Files film is due. So why is that? How does a film, with a name as big as the X-Files, go relatively unnoticed? Could it be because everyone is busy with Batman mania? I don’t think so.  It’s because the creators/producers wanted it to fly under the radar – this film is for the fans, and not for everyone else.

A lot was made of the first X-Files movie. Many fans I knew felt shafted. “Too big,” they said. “Not in the spirit of the files” (whatever that means). While they were disappointed with the film, I personally liked it. But that’s because I was the target – I was the casual viewer that they were trying to rope into the still running TV show and that meant that I’d be more likely to be satisfied with a film that tried to neatly wrap up the series into a feature film. The film showcased the show’s main draw and unquestionable source for most of its popularity – the running theme of a government conspiracy revolving around all things extraterrestrial (or as fans know it – “mythology”) – but didn’t address what everyone was really looking for – naked Scully?

Fans (X-Philes) will be happy to know that I Want to Believe is the opposite in almost every conceivable way. While the first film was grand and overarching, this film is small and subtle. Instead it focuses on a stand-alone story, separate from the conspiracy timeline, completely unrelated to the first film and sans recognizable reoccurring characters. I Want to Believe draws attention to the disappearance of an FBI agent and one man’s “visions” that seem to reveal clues related to the agent’s whereabouts. Not knowing how to deal with the paranormalesque circumstances, ASAC Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) goes out on a limb and brings in Scully (now a full-time doctor) to bring in Mulder to help solve the case. Even though Mulder had been “wanted by the FBI” for some time (related to his trial and sentencing in the series finale), everything quickly returns to normal: Scully and the FBI are the party poopers (read: non-believers), and it’s Mulder’s job to make a believer out of everyone else while he helps solve the case. 

While I have no doubt that fans will love the choice of the stand-alone story, the themes explored in the film and every X-Files reference, I think too many will be disappointed by the actual story – it’s almost too simple. It’s almost as if everything is too easy (At one point, Scully uses Google to do “research”). While the characters are strong per usual (Billy Connolly and David Duchovny are both excellent), the story lacks the complexity that might have been expected and comes off as an elongated episode. And while that fact alone might feed a starving fanatic, it’s not enough to carry a full feature. The film does a wonderful job of exploring the parallel storylines and does a commendable job in exploring several complex themes at once (religion being the most prominent), but somehow it feels as if it’s missing that elegant storyline that good movies have. On the other hand, Xzibit (as listed in the credits) as an FBI agent is amazing.  

One liability: a confusing-ass love story. Reminiscent of Dawson and Joey – yeah! – Mulder and Scully circle round and round, stuck forever together in love limbo. Yin and yang. Believer and Non. As someone who didn't seriously watch the show, I wondered, "What the eff is going on between these two?" It’s obvious they're more than coworkers. They’ve shared way too many long glances and loving gazes to be just friends.

Going into this movie, I knew I'd get a few clues about their relationship. A friend of mine told me that Mulder and Scully got together by the end of the series – but what happened in the intervening six years? Unfortunately, I'll have to tell my pre-I Want to Believe self that this movie provides no conclusive answers. On the "they're still in love" side, we get a kissing scene whose off-handedness suggests they do this every morning. On the "they're on the outs" side are a whole slew of moments that had me wondering if Mulder and Scully wanted to punch each other or escape to Antarctica. I have a better idea of how Lost is going to end than I do of Mulder and Scully's relationship.

But if this movie will entertain the fans, how will casual viewers – or non-fans – enjoy it? Not much, I'm afraid.

The original intent of the stand-alone episodes was to draw in casual viewers who may have felt alienated by the conspiracy storyline. The stand-alone episodes let casual viewers still enjoy the show because it wasn’t essential to know how the government was raping or had raped Mulder and Scully because the viewer, whether it be someone who never watched or someone who watched every once in a while, would become attached to the characters through the mini-stories. Oddly enough, this movie upends that precedent. It's a stand-alone episode that doesn't appeal to casual viewers. If you’ve never watched X-Files, you’re going to be confused, not by the storyline itself, but by what you think you might be missing. You’re going to be confused by Mulder and Scully’s relationship, but so is every X-Files fan. Only the X-Files fan won’t let it bother him because he knows that the relationship has always been effed and, therefore, unable to capture successfully in a stand-alone episode. 

Is the fan going to be satisfied? Yes, of course. I know how excited I would be just to see one more episode of a show I loved (I miss you Studio 60). But the satisfaction, in the end, will wane because the show isn’t coming back on the air and the next film is only an embryo. At least you can still ponder the question of Mulder and Scully.