The X-Files: I Want to Believe

2008-07-25 (General release)

“Hold the line!” The first words uttered by Xzibit in the new X-Files movie are unexpected, to put it mildly. But as soon as he speaks, the visual fragments that fill I Want to Believe‘s first two minutes come together. As Agent Mosley Drummy, Xzibit (credited as “Alvin ‘Xzibit’ Joiner”) is heading up a line of agents in blue parkas and carrying sticks to punch through snow. As they have made their way across a wide white expanse, the scene cuts to another, more expressly violent moment, as a woman, being attacked by a bald man, gashes his face with a metal gardening claw. She’s an FBI agent about to go missing, he’s the sort of villain you expect to see in The X-Files: looming, nonverbal, and completely creepy.

The assault and the search, so plainly disjointed in time and space, come together when the FBI line — “held,” on Drummy’s order — discovers a bloody arm buried beneath the snow. Obviously a result of the previous violence, it inspires the appropriate looks of horror, just before the scene cuts again, this time to someone you already know: Scully (Gillian Anderson). It makes no difference that you’re looking at the back of her head or that her red hair is longer and differently styled than it used to be. Scully’s instant familiarity helps to push this first spurt of precisely edited images into a recognizable order. That said, the disorder is titillating too: those ooky images of trundling agents in “FBI”-emblazoned jackets seem like refreshing counterprogramming amid the rumble of the season’s action movies.

This goes double for Xzibit as a fed. He’s an odd man here: not only did his acting career begin as The X-Files was winding down, but he’s so far followed the usual hip-hop artist’s path into movies, playing rappers, gangsters, and prisoners. His sober suit is a striking shift of tone, as is his sternness. Drummy functions as foil for Scully, Mulder (David Duchovny), and their fellow wanna-believer Assistant Special Agent in Charge Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet), the new team’s hardcore skeptic. And I mean hardcore: where Scully continues to grapple with doubts (religion vs. science, faith vs. rationality, Mulder vs. realism), Mosley Drummy (and let’s note his most excellent name) resists such wrestling.

That’s not to say the movie, named for Mulder’s favorite dorm-room poster, doesn’t set up Drummy’s skepticism to be challenged. When he grumpily leads Mulder and Scully from their special-delivery helicopter into a briefing room, they’re forced to wait outside for a moment as he proceeds, leaving them to ponder the portraits that frame the doorway: when the camera focuses on George W. Bush, the X-Files theme music sounds, a clever bit that reminds you just how much fun the series could be. Once inside the room, Drummy is set against Whitney right away, proclaiming his reluctance to bring in Mulder (a disgraced former agent) and rely on a priest’s “visions” to find that missing agent.

That priest, not coincidentally, comes with his own issues. Long-haired and emotionally wobbly, Father Joseph (Billy Connolly) presently lives in an apartment complex provided for confessed pedophiles. Where Mulder instantly accepts the man’s help, Scully resists (as she puts it, he’s “bugger[ed] 37 altar boys”). She asserts not only that she’ll have her eye on him during their efforts to recover the missing agent, but also insinuates that he can never be forgiven for what he’s done — even within the parameters of confession and redemption that shape her faith. (The movie helps frame her skepticism when the agents walk into Joseph’s room, his TV blaring “Movin’ on up,” as The Jeffersons begins.) Still, Scully’s absolute judgment (“He’s a creep and he’s a liar”) is tempered by her interests in the science (peculiarities in the case file) and in Mulder.

“I’m done chasing monsters in the dark,” she tells Mulder, though of course she’s not. Even if she’s distracted by her current gig (a surgeon at the conspicuously named Our Lady of Sorrows Hospital, she’s seeking “radical” stem-cell answers in treating a beautiful child in need of something like a miracle), the point here is plainly her reunion with Mulder. And so they butt heads, part ways, and find variations on their basic themes, finding themselves twisting inside their customary erotic tension. It’s certainly true, as Rebecca Traister observes, that Scully is a “rational, resilient, mature” woman, increasingly haunted by her many plots (there are so many to remember, but here are two that resonate: her sly “Babe” joke in “Home,” and her decision to get an Ouroboros tattoo in “Never Again”). She is also, you are reminded here, convincingly complicated and appealingly restless, open to the darkness Mulder can’t help but explore.

Scully and Mulder both want to believe, but they assume different starting points and imagine different ends. And like real grownups, they value their disparities, rather than insisting on abject agreement, finding reasons to believe in one another if not “out there.” Here, Scully is helped toward her belief by a trio of nuns who hover in the hospital, and Mulder finds his own encouragement in his usual source: naysayers. Chief among these is Drummy, who voices the official line repeatedly. “I don’t believe this!” he mutters, on hearing the priest carry on yet again about seeing tormented faces in strange places, occasioning Mulder’s predictable riposte, “That’s been your problem from the start.”

But Drummy has another problem. In embodying the status quo, he has to toe a series of lines and reject a number of possibilities. His closed mind is set against the heroes’ openness, their efforts to see beyond what’s in front of them. So that you have no doubts about his doubts, I Want to Believe includes a dreary sign when Drummy sees in a pair of suspects a whole range of foreignness. One is repeatedly termed “the Russian,” and both together, Drummy snarks, “are married in Massachusetts.”

As the film underscores Drummy’s rigidity against Mulder and Scully’s imagination and ingenuity, it’s revisiting the series’ basic conflict, the rage for order against the desire to believe. In this process, the plot devolves into a series of grisly images (more body parts and big red stitches) that are, in the end, more mundane than horrifying. Monsters, darkness, fighting what’s oout there: we’ve all been there. In this context, the weird and weirdly rewarding intimacy between Mulder and Scully (“I can feel you thinking,” he tells her) is almost radical.

RATING 6 / 10