Though I’m not a fan of the horror or thriller genres in general, I was drawn to “The X Files” during its TV run after reading an interview with the show’s creator Chris Carter. An agnostic, Carter acknowledged that the poster on Fox Mulder’s (David Duchovny) wall featuring a UFO and the words “I Want to Believe” metaphorically represented Carter’s own quest for faith. While Mulder sought proof for the existence of extraterrestrials, Carter wanted to believe in the existence of a transcendent reality and even a benevolent creator. He admitted he could never quite get to that point though.
Amidst the storylines featuring supernatural serial killers, alien conspiracies and monsters of the week, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) often engaged in science versus faith debates with both sides getting a fair hearing. I always admired this about the show because it at least took these matters seriously instead of dismissing them outright or simply looking on faith as craziness.
With the release of “The X Files: I Want to Believe,” Carter’s spiritual quest is brought to the fore once again. The movie picks up 6 years after the series ended. Scully is now a doctor at “Our Lady of Sorrows” hospital while Mulder is still in hiding because he escaped from government custody after a sham trial about his paranormal investigations.
One day, an FBI agent approaches Scully at the hospital and tells her they need Mulder’s insight on an investigation involving a missing agent. It appears that someone is having visions about the crime and the FBI doesn’t know whether they can trust these visions. If Mulder cooperates, all past transgressions will be forgiven. Scully contacts Mulder who, after some initial reluctance, agrees to help.
It turns out that the person having the visions is a Catholic priest named Father Joe (Billy Connolly). It’s also revealed that Father Joe is no ordinary priest; he’s a convicted pedophile priest. “Uh-oh,” I thought, “here comes two hours of pot-shots at the Catholic Church and clergy.” To my complete and utter shock, the film didn’t go in that direction.
Yes, Scully as the resident Catholic expresses some righteous anger at Father Joe for his crimes and fires some verbal shots at his character. But Father Joe is actually portrayed as a struggling, sinful human being instead of a malicious caricature. Of course, there are questions.
Are Father Joe’s visions real or is he just trying to rehabilitate his image? Is it possible that this most heinous of sins – the sexual abuse of children – can ever be forgiven by man or by God? Would God actually use a pedophile to accomplish His divine will?
Jeffrey Overstreet, a non-Catholic Christian who reviewed the film for Christianity Today’s web site, takes offense on behalf of Catholics because of the fact that the priest is a pedophile. Jeffrey writes, “Do American filmmakers really believe that all priests are sexual deviants? Is Hollywood so infected with prejudice that they've come to believe the rare exceptions are the rule?”
I appreciate Jeffrey’s legitimate critique and viewpoint. The portrayal of good and holy priests in modern media is a rarity nowadays. For me though, the character in this film wasn’t offensive because of the well-rounded way he was handled. I give Carter credit for giving more than one dimension.
In my opinion, “I Want to Believe” works better as a spiritual quest than a thriller. While the central mystery is creepy, it didn’t really grab me. Action scenes are at a minimum and there’s one pretty goofy moment in Mulder’s final confrontation with the bad guys that everyone in the theater laughed at.
Carter, who directed the film and co-wrote it with X Files veteran Frank Spotnitz, opts to capitalize mainly on the Mulder-Scully dynamic that kept me watching the TV show even when the storylines started getting weak. And it really is the interaction between the two leads that makes “I Want to Believe” as engaging and even witty as it is.
In an era when atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens show nothing but contempt for faith of any kind, it’s refreshing to witness Chris Carter’s honest search for truth. A recent Entertainment Weekly article describes him as “a former skeptic who’s got more faith that it’s not all meaningless.” That comes through in the movie. So if you’re a spiritual seeker or even a practicing Christian or Catholic, “The X Files: I Want to Believe” should leave you thinking about sin, forgiveness, and the challenge to discern God’s will in our world and in our lives.