“I Want to Believe” is an interesting title, especially considering the one thing Mulder always wanted to believe in–Alien life–is nowhere in this movie. In 2008, I wanted to believe that it would be good, and I have held out hope since then that it actually was good despite years of fan criticism. After watching it recently I have to admit that it failed due to the completely lopsided villain plot. The bad guys were creepy to be sure, but not that threatening in the grand scheme of things; with an unpersuasive conspiracy involving organ theft, which is kind of a downgrade from the global-interstellar alien colonization conspiracy of the last movie; who were woefully underwritten–they didn’t even speak English, or have much dialogue period–and who traffic in gay and transgender stereotyping to boot (the dying Russian who wants to become a woman was married to his head henchmen in Massachusetts). Half the movie is completely forgettable–the fact that you probably don’t remember any of what I just mentioned proves the point.
But the other half–the struggling romance between Mulder and Scully, and the struggle for faith as exhibited by Scully and Father Joe–is not only strong in my view, it is pure Chris Carter. Carter’s basic plan for this movie was this: I want to write a romance about the benefits and the perils of faith, and I don’t want the B-plot villain to distract from that. We can debate if this was a good call or a bad call. What I do know is this: “I Want to Believe” is required viewing for anyone who wants to fully understand and enjoy the recent (and hopefully ongoing) X-Files reboot. Here are three revelations from the film that are important for the new episodes:
Mulder is not the hip guy we want him to be; he is disturbed, anti-establishment, and … not a techie
When we are re-introduced to Mulder in the 2nd film–a scene that intentionally mirrors the characters’ introduction in the pilot episode–we’re nearly transported into Sherlock Holmes’s victorian flat. The room is filled with bookshelves, wooden and metal filing cabinets, maps, many clippings and pictures pinned to the wall, globes, and even magnifying glasses. Mudler is using scissors to clip an article (about ESP) out of a newspaper. There is no computer visible anywhere in the room. The only piece of technology is a boxy fax machine. This is in 2008, when he could easily download anything about ESP he desired from the Internet.
Way back in 1992, when we first get a glimpse at Mudler’s FBI office, the scene wasn’t much different. There are filing cabinets and stacks of papers, with clippings and pictures pinned to the walls. He is hunched over a lightbox studying slides, which might have seemed savvy in the 90s but would not have been out of place in the 60s either. On a table in the corner there is a desktop computer with a Doogie Howser-style Word Processor.
But here is the big tell. On Mulder’s actual desk is the one piece of technology that he uses to communicate. I do not think we ever actually saw him using this on screen, but here it is in the first episode: a typewriter! You can see the silver keys in the bottom left of this screencap, as Scully goes in to shake Mulder’s hand.
Come to think of it, the only character we saw use a typewriter on the series was Smoking Man. Maybe both of them instinctively understood that spooks can’t hack a typewriter, or maybe they were just old school that way. In any case, it’s not surprising that Mulder did not get a smart phone with a camera until 2016. (I am 20 years younger than Mulder, and I did not have a cell phone until 2005, or a smart phone until 2015–AND I have a typewriter, and still snip articles out of an actual paper newspapers.)
Mulder was born October 13 1961, a Friday. He is a late Babyboomer. (It’s worth remembering that Chris Carter was born in 1957, and would have had a similar wold-political upbringing: Nixon–Watergate–Reagan–Cold War, etc. etc.) Mulder was fully of age before the PC was in every office and home.
The little yellow house in the country, where he and Scully hid out after Season 9, is a fitting refuge for a middle-aged Mulder. He can be as reclusive and self-indulgent as he craves to be, without having to write reports to Assistant Director Skinner. That house was his home and only life for many years more than he worked in the basement of the Hoover Building. We don’t know when he moved into that office, but we first met him there in 1992 and he walked out of it for the last time in 2001: 9 years. Mulder and Scully had to settle somewhere after they escaped his military tribunal in 2002, and he is still living in that house in 2016, albeit without Scully: 14 years. The fact that Scully in 2008, when she is still living with him, is worried about his mental state, and the “effects of long-term isolation,” and asks if he’s taking his meds–which I do not think was a joke–all this paints a pretty clear picture of the real Fox Mulder. He probably does not have to work a real job because he gets a disability check for being psychotic.
Scully and William
Despite how badly Season 9 mishandled the William storyline, Carter was not about to just pretend it did not happen. In the movie, Mulder says “I think our son left us both with an emptiness that can’t be filled.” Watching both of them mourn their lost son may not have been good for the movie’s narrative, but it was the right thing to honor the characters. They had a child together, and the hope of starting a normal life, both of which were robbed from them by the dark forces that have been haunting their lives for so long. Scully’s new career as a doctor for a Catholic hospital, Our Lady of Sorrows, is just as fitting for her as Mulder’s sad, little house is for him.
Mulder and Scully’s Relationship
This movie is really a romance. Its main thread is Scully resisting Mulder’s return to “the darkness” and deciding to leave him because of it, and him convincing her to stick with him. She clearly breaks up with him half way through the film, and in the final scene, as he makes the case for her to stay, she doesn’t definitively agree that she will stay. It is left open-ended. Mulder makes an unorthodox if honest appeal in response to her saying she wants to “get away from the darkness.” He says: “Im not sure it works that way. I think maybe the darkness finds you and me.” If you watch to the end of the credits, you see both of them in a rowboat, Mulder rowing them over blue waters toward a tropical island. Hey, everyone needs a vacation.
Again, was it the smartest decision to make the second movie a romance? Probably not. But it was the kind of story that the characters deserved. And unless Carter was going to hit the reset button and ignore Season 8 and 9, it was the only kind of story he could have told. It needed to be about their relationship considering they were only ever depicted on screen as a couple in the very last episode of the series.
Maybe it would have worked better if the Carter-20th Century Fox law suit had not delayed the film, and it came out closer on the heels of the series finale. It certainly would have played better if it was released in the Halloween market, or January market, where smaller movies can do well. The studio should have treated it as a bridge between the series and a film franchise. I suspect that after years of delay the suits figured that ship had sailed, and they let Carter make the movie he wanted but would not market it.
None of that excuses the film’s real flaws, namely the awful antagonists. The romance needed to be told, it just deserved a better threat. But still, this movie is essential viewing for fans who want to enjoy the season 10 episodes, and who want to understand these two classic characters. Re-watch it. There’s more to like than you remember.