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The new X-Files movie (subtitled “I Want to Believe”) was released today in Australia, reversing a recent trend which has seen Australia at the back end of the queue when it comes to movie release dates (not till tomorrow in the U.S.) I managed to get into one of the first showings this morning, and thought I’d do a little TDG review of Chris Carter’s new feature.

For those wanting a taster of the film, the official X-Files website (linked above) has trailers and excerpts from the movie. Also you might be pick up some insights from Wired’s Q&A with Chris Carter. Carter has also just released a new DVD, X-Files: Revelations (Amazon US), a compilation of episodes from the television series which is said to be the “essential guide” to understanding the film. (For those who want to take on the daunting mythology of the complete series, try this.)

The film certainly does revolve around the concept that Chris Carter described as “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.” But then, that pretty much sums the entire lifespan of the X-Files. Some of those allusions become pretty concrete though in the new film, which I’ll discuss after the fold to avoid spoilers. In short though, my summary – without spoilers – would be: Great film, well-directed and acted, excellent storyline with surprises for fans. A worthy stand-alone film – just perhaps not paranormally ‘epic’ enough for my liking; this is The X-Files dammit!

** Warning: Spoilers after the fold **

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The X-Files: I Want to Believe

Review by Greg Taylor

The filming of Chris Carter’s latest X-Files feature film has been surrounded by the type of security one might expect at FBI headquarters. The plot of the film has been a closely guarded secret (scripts handed in at the end of each day, surveillance cameras monitoring the set, etc), as have the answers to those ever-present questions surrounding the entire The X-Files series: will Mulder and Scully hook up romantically, has Mulder found ‘The Truth’, and so on. The X-Files: I Want to Believe answers many of these questions, and some will delight audiences, while others probably will not.

The surprise answer to the mystery of Mulder and Scully’s relationship is answered fairly early in the movie, though there is some build-up and fleshing out of the storyline first. Set in the present – and therefore years after the ending of the last X-Files storyline – the film opens with cuts between two scenes: one showing a woman being attacked by a strange intruder, the other showing the FBI searching for something, being led by psychic Father Joseph Crissman (brilliantly played by Billy Connolly, a stand-out performance), who had called them with a tip-off. The trailers for the film, which showed these search scenes, led me to feel that something momentous was buried under the ice, ala the previous X-Files film. However, there are no alien craft or extraterrestrials to be found in the new flick – the solution is much more down-to-earth and grisly: body parts. This was perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the film for me, but more of that later.

When Father Crissman uncovers an amputated arm in the snowfield, the FBI decides that they need someone who talks Crissman’s language: Fox ‘Spooky’ Mulder (the always-excellent David Duchovny). Missing for years, after having charges filed against him by the FBI, they turn to Dana Scully (mmm, Gillian Anderson), who has quit the FBI and now works in a hospital, with an offer of dropping the charges against Mulder in return for his help. And track him down she does, with ease (for reasons that become apparent not much further into the film). Looking very unabomber with a full-face beard, Mulder’s recent existence is obviously a boring and frustrating one for him – pencils adorn the ceiling. (Fans of the series will be happy to see that Mulder’s “I Want to Believe” poster now adorns the wall of his home-office.) So you know what his answer is going to be, even if he resists at first.

At FBI headquarters, a sight-joke brings the movie into the now (with minor comment) when Mulder and Scully raise eyebrows and grin at parallel photo portraits of current U.S. President George W. Bush and J. Edgar Hoover – replete with the trademark X-Files theme echoing in the background. And Mulder’s dry wit comes to the fore inside the FBI conference room when discussing the merits of Father Crissman. In reply to FBI doubts, Mulder says he thinks the FBI should be not only engaging Crissman, but should be “hopping in bed and kissing his backside.” The shock revelation comes – Father Crissman sexually abused 37 altar boys in his past. Mulder shows no overt surprise, just with a weak smile he replies “maybe I’d stay out of bed with him”.

The story arc follows the to-and-fro of belief and skepticism in psychic talents, as Father Crissman reveals further visions – some involving a second abducted woman – which eventually lead investigators to a cache of body parts. Those who don’t believe in the paedophile psychic veer to the only other explanation: Father Crissman is an accomplice. This conclusion looks more and more likely the further the film goes on, when it is revealed that one of the main suspects in the crime was actually a victim of Father Crissman’s predations decades earlier.

While the plot continues, the romance between Mulder and Scully is made explicit. She has trouble sleeping in bed one night; from the other side of the bed comes Mulder’s voice. Apparently they have been living together all this time. Later, Scully cites Mulder’s stubbornness, saying “it is why I fell in love with you.” The relationship is not without its tensions though. Scully worries about Mulder’s re-engagement with the paranormal: “This is about you trying to save your sister,” she says as they search the snowfields with Father Crissman. Mulder replies “My sister is dead”, to which Scully answers “It hasn’t stopped you looking for her.” Later, Scully reveals the extent that his paranormal interests have affected their future together, when she confesses “I can’t look into the darkness with you.”

The main plot runs parallel with Scully’s medical fight to save a young, terminally ill boy named Christian from dying (he has Sandhoff Disease). This second storyline reinforces the movie’s subtitle, with the constant friction between science and religion even affecting this poor boy’s life. Scully is under pressure from the religious head at the hospital to let the boy go into God’s arms, while she is determined to never give up – reinforced by an off-hand remark made to her by Father Crissman.

X-Files diehards will probably also have questions about Scully’s frantic and emotional struggle to save this boy’s life. She is questioned on multiple occasions in the film, “what if you were his mother.” Many might find this suggestive that Christian (another nod from Carter regarding the science/religion theme?) is in fact Scully (and Mulder’s?) son William, who was adopted out at a young age. This, in concert with the unresolved fate of the boy at the end of the movie, may point the way towards a further feature?

Mulder claims Father Crissman – named by the FBI as an accomplice to the crime, after his premature death – was in fact genuine. He cites the psychic link between him and his former victim – they both developed lung cancer, and died at the same time. But sadly, this is as paranormal as the new movie gets. The main plotline has nothing to do with aliens, ET, paranormal monsters or powers. Instead it is about Soviet-style experimentation on swapping heads onto other bodies, ala Dr. S.S. Bryukhonenko. As such, the movie feels more a mix of Seven and Along Came a Spider than true X-Files. The closest we get to a monster is a manmade Cerberus, which is a little disappointing – the Alien conspiracy may be goddamn involved, but at least it’s epic! David Duchovny signalled as much when he described it more as a “monster-of-the-week” feature, though it probably doesn’t even reach those heights paranormal-wise.

But that shouldn’t stop anyone from watching this film. There aren’t many flaws in it – perhaps only the over-construed plot device in which Scully locates Mulder at the end being worthy of a groan, and Billy Connolly is just a bit too likable for a man who’s committed some heinous crimes (although he was perfect for the role in all other ways). The movie is very well-made, and gets the blood pumping, though more through grisly crimes and threats of bodily amputation. Key to the story is the tension between belief and skepticism – it runs through various sub-plots in the film, and is even made explicit in an ending scene with Mulder and Scully. Commenting on whether Father Crissman’s quest for redemption from his crimes was fulfilled, Mulder speculates to Scully: “What if he was forgiven, because you didn’t give up?” Ever the foil, Scully dryly replies, “Try proving that one Mulder…”

The X-Files: I Want to Believe is another fine outing with our favourite paranormal investigators, and nobody – true fans or newbies – will likely leave disappointed in the movie they have just seen. But Chris – can we have something really alien or paranormal in the next one?