*There are spoilers here.*
I've been meaning to write this for a while, but wanted to wait until I could give The X-Files: I Want to Believe a second viewing, which I finally did yesterday, on beautiful Blu-Ray. I am a long-time X-Phile; the show, which I started watching around age 13, is one of my formative viewing experiences; I trace my current love for things ambiguous, fantastic and otherworldly squarely back to Chris Carter's brilliant creation. And I dissent in a big way from both the layman and fan consensus on I Want to Believe. I still think, as I did in the summer of 2008, that the movie is a fantastic X-Files episode. But more importantly, I still think it is a genuinely moving farewell to two beloved characters, and one of the most satisfying pieces of closure that any long-running series or franchise has ever given us.
One thing that I suspect threw people off was the movie's snowbound melancholy, replacing the apocalyptic terror of The X-Files' last big-screen outing, 1998's Fight the Future. There's some excitement here, and a few laughs, but the overall tone is more akin to "Beyond the Sea," the beloved, somber first-season episode that was more concerned with personal demons than actual ones. It's hard to fault moviegoers for expecting something bigger and louder out of what was, after all, pitched as the popular series' triumphant return. But it's also hard -- or at any rate it should be -- to fault Chris Carter and his team for wanting to take the movie in a different direction. Rather than have Mulder and Scully go out with a bang, they chose to put them to bed, give them a hug, and tuck in the covers.
The central notion of the show was, of course, Mulder's endless conspiracy-theorizing and eagerness to embrace the supernatural pitted against Scully's obstinate skeptical rationalism. What I Want to Believe tries to do is peel a layer from that dynamic to reveal something subtly different beneath. Mulder and Scully have left the FBI, and are no longer, as Scully puts it, "chasing monsters in the dark." But the darkness has not left them. What used to be Mulder's wide-eyed wonder now seems more like desperate grasping at some sort of religion: he wants to believe that Billy Connoly's Father Joe is receiving visions from a higher power, because if he doesn't, there's nothing in this world left for him, and no hope for his abducted sister, who he finally seems to have accepted is dead. And Scully appears to be in the constant throes of a crisis of faith; neither her scientific training nor her Christian surroundings (she works in a Catholic hospital) are getting her anywhere. The seemingly irrelevant subplot with the sick kid and stem cell therapy is the key to the film.
The legendary dynamic between the two of them has changed too, again in ways organic and subtle. There's less banter and humor, but if there's one thing that I Want to Believe makes clear, it's that Mulder and Scully are soulmates -- two weary halves of a battered whole. We are barely even surprised to find that they are living together, though the movie matter-of-factly blindsides us with this. I may be alone in finding their last scene together utterly heartbreaking. Mulder and Scully are meant to be together, but destined to be apart -- driven in different directions by their passions, obsessions, and fears. Which, sadly, makes perfect sense.
I think that I Want to Believe's A-story -- the whole Frankenstein body-swapping bit -- is marvelously gruesome, creepy, and compelling in the odd way that some of the show's best stand-alone episodes were. But it's mostly a feint, which is what made the movie more-or-less inaccessible to those not steeped in the franchise. What Chris Carter wanted to do here, I think, was to say goodbye in a way that did these characters justice. And I think he succeeded. On second viewing, the movie's last shot -- Dr. Scully, doing what she believes is right even as her young patient, her co-workers, and a gaggle of nuns judgmentally look on --struck me as absolutely perfect. It really seemed like the entire series was leading up to this moment.
Won't you give this movie another chance?