Does God exist? If so, how does he exert his will on Earth? If, as Jews and Christians believe, God is omniscient, omnipotent and beneficent, how do we account for the suffering of the innocent, the starvation of impoverished children, the Holocaust? These are questions that have challenged and sometimes defeated theologians, troubled believers and often stymied faith for millennia. Thus, I was stimulated to discover that they are the central concerns of director Chris Carter's X-Files: I Want to Believe.
Written by Carter with Frank Spotnitz, the current X-Files reunites former FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) some years after they left government service. Scully is now a resident surgeon at a Catholic hospital. Mulder is at sea, not working at anything, haunted and resentful about being dismissed from his old job. They share a house together in an isolated location, but they have never married. In quick, deftly acted scenes, we understand how much they love and need each other. But there is a melancholy that shrouds their lives. They have lost a child.
The plot of the film summons the different ways that Mulder and Scully approached their work in 10 seasons of television episodes and an earlier motion picture. Their cases involved paranormal mysteries and implications of extraterrestrial invasion. Mulder was always the seeker. Never entirely convinced, he nonetheless always wanted and still wants to believe. Scully, the scientist, is ever the skeptic, and so she remains.
As the picture opens, FBI agent Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet), beseeches them to assist on an urgent case. FBI agent Monica Bannan (Xantha Radley) has been abducted, and the bureau's only clues to her whereabouts are coming from a psychic. Both reluctantly agree to participate in the case, but Scully quickly wants to abandon participation when she discovers that the psychic is Father Joseph Crissman (Billy Connolly), a pedophile convicted of sodomizing 37 altar boys. Scully instantly concludes that he is a fraud. Mulder, predictably, wants to see if the disgraced priest can provide anything worthwhile. When Father Joe leads them first to a severed arm and then other buried body parts, Mulder begins to believe that his psychic powers may be real. Scully refuses to surrender her conviction that the priest is a con man and begins to argue that he's obviously a participant in new unspeakable crimes. The film's deft script manipulates the revelation of evidence such that we metronome from siding with Scully over to Mulder and then back again.
Scully, meanwhile, is involved in a harrowing case at her hospital. She's been treating a young boy suffering from a rare form of brain cancer. His prospects for survival are slim. Only an experimental and painful process of intercranial stem cell injections offers any hope. The hospital administrator, a priest, thinks that the stem cell injections are unwarranted, that they will expose the boy to unnecessary pain without extending his life. Scully herself is torn. She has become very attached to this child, who reminds her of her son. She doesn't want him to suffer, but she fiercely wants him to live. Should she proceed with the only treatment available, or should she medicate the boy and let him slip away peacefully?
These two plot threads are connected in a rumination on medical ethics. For we discover that Bannon's abduction has been orchestrated by a monstrous team of doctors who are harvesting blood and organs in an attempt to save the life of a rich man dying of cancer. In short, good and evil reside side by side. And sometimes you cannot tell into which category a particular action might fall.
Much of what the film endeavors to say rests on the character of Father Joe. He does not deny the harm he has done. But he claims to have prayed for redemption and maintains that his psychic visions are evidence that God's grace extends even to a man such as himself. Mulder wants to believe him; Scully, who is angry at the very notion of God because of the death of her son, doesn't. But Scully does want to believe, against all reason, in a piece of advice Joe offers her. Terrific stuff.
I was a devoted fan of the TV show. Duchovny's Mulder and Anderson's Scully possess a chemistry that still convinces and moves. I yearn for more movies in order to watch them grow old together. The writing here is as fine as the best of the series. How often does a thriller dare to ask if you believe forgiveness is possible for someone who has done the unforgivable?