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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The X-Files: I Want to Believe provided an unexpected situation. I had only seen the TV show on which it's based perhaps a half dozen times, but I enjoyed the first movie and I enjoyed this one as well. My best friend, who was a hardcore fan of the show from Day One, said he wasn't impressed. It kind of baffled me; I think this is a smart, sophisticated, and creepy bit of sci-fi entertainment, so how could anyone who actually watched the show think otherwise? Turns out my buddy didn't object to the picture per se - he just wanted something that carried on the show's mythology after the final episode. I Want to Believe is a stand-alone story that makes no reference to the upcoming "invasion" that was supposedly right around the corner when the show made its final run. (Or so I am told.)

I guess it stands to reason that other "X-Files" fans might be also be disappointed in the new movie because of that. I fully understand the potential pitfalls of having elevated expectations. My suspicion is that if my friend waits about a year and rents the flick on DVD - far removed from the initial burst of hype and anticipation - he'll change his mind. Like I said, this is, if nothing else, a solid mystery for agents Mulder and Scully to investigate.

I Want to Believe finds Scully (Gillian Anderson) now working as a doctor in a Catholic hospital. One of her young patients has a disease thought to be incurable - at least via Catholic-approved methods. She struggles trying to convince her administrators to be open to other treatments. Meanwhile, Mulder (David Duchovny), hides in solitude at their home. He too has stopped chasing paranormal activity, yet beneath his hermetic lifestyle you can still sense a desire to solve life's unsolvable mysteries.

The two are lured back into action semi-reluctantly by two FBI agents, Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) and Mosley Drummy (Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner). They have a truly bizarre case that no one can solve. It calls for the best there ever was. Mulder and Scully soon become embroiled in the search for a missing agent and, eventually, several other innocent people. The key to their interest lies in a retired pedophilic priest, Fr. Joe (Billy Connelly), who claims to have visions from God about how the agent was attacked. He's able to lead everyone to crime scenes where severed body parts are buried in the snow. Mulder and Scully want to know: Is the priest somehow involved? If not, where are his visions coming from? And why are the body parts being hidden?

As you would expect, The X-Files: I Want to Believe ends up going to some pretty trippy places. (I've left out significant plot details so as to preserve the nature of the mystery.) There are scenes set in a dingy basement that involve a woman in a box. Such moments, while not particularly gory, are, to me, infinitely more disturbing than anything in the torture porn films like Saw. It's not about the bloodshed anyway; it's about the reasons why one person might choose to inflict harm upon another. The last twenty minutes, in particular, evolve into a genuine creep-out.

That's all good stuff, but what I responded to most in the movie is its theme. It is not a coincidence that I Want to Believe is the subtitle. At its heart, this is very much a movie about faith - how we find it, how we lose it, and how we get it back. Take Scully, who is perhaps the ultimate skeptic. She doesn't believe in the visions of this buggering priest, even when they prove true. How, she wonders, can someone capable of an act as heinous as child molestation possibly receive a message from God? Her lack of faith in solving the mystery intersects with her desire to cure the sick little boy in the hospital. To help him, she may need to find a way to start having some faith in the possibility of miracles.

Then there's Mulder, who continues to wonder what happened to his sister, long believed to have been abducted by UFOs. He's a believer, always open to other possibilities no matter how seemingly bizarre, yet this attitude also causes him distress. He talks about wanting to "run away from the darkness," to believe that he can escape all the unexplained phenomena and live a normal life. He's torn between his fascination with the paranormal and the knowledge of what it does to him. Over the course of the movie, both characters come to terms, of one sort or another, with their problems. Mulder and Scully set out on what is perhaps their most perilous adventure yet: trusting that they can exist in a world where there are not always answers, where some things must be taken on faith. There's a very strong spiritual underside to The X-Files: I Want to Believe. It gives the story a lot of emotional weight, while also making the creepy stuff that much more disturbing.

The performances are very good, with Gillian Anderson being the standout. We find Dana Scully in a place of anguish, and the actress makes her attempts to navigate that feeling affecting. Duchovny is also fine, as is Billy Connelly as the priest with suspicious motives. Here is one of the more interesting movie characters in some time. Fr. Joe is both bad and good simultaneously. He's a holy man whose actions have been guided, in part, by an insidious evil. He has intentionally harmed children but also attempts to save others. The man is a walking contradiction in a story that's all about them. It takes a certain amount of faith in something bigger to accept the presence of such contradictions in the world, which Mulder and Scully ultimately discover.

( out of four)

The X-Files: I Want to Believe is rated PG-13 for violent and disturbing content and thematic material. The running time is 1 hour and 44 minutes.

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