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X-Files: I want to believe

Directed by Chris Carter
Certificate 15, 105 mins

The less said about the plot of The X-Files' second cinematic incarnation the better, but it does manage to be a moderately gripping film. Its 'Monster of the Week' story does not tell us much more about the meta-level threat facing earth outlined at length in the TV series - it's more like an attempt at keeping the fans in a holding pattern before a final, climactic movie in a couple of years. But there are still a few morsels for those who want their mythology to grow. We get to see Mulder and Scully in bed together (in a rather beautifully written scene about fear and faith), and the film's one decent laugh comes when the two see a photograph of President Bush, at which point the most easily whistled TV theme tune in history tickles the audience, implying that George W might only be visiting this planet.

The film at least tries to ask important questions: Billy Connolly plays a priest with child sex convictions who also happens to have visions of the abducted woman the film is trying to find. Meanwhile, Dr Scully is working in a Catholic hospital run by the kind of priest familiar from the writings of Richard Dawkins; she wants to try a radical new treatment on a dying boy, but the priest wont let her. Mulder, of course, believes in aliens, but not God (yet); while Scully is a practising Catholic, yet skeptical of little green men. The theme of religion harming children is handled with subtlety, and Connolly's performance as the guilty and broken Father Joe is all the more remarkable given his own personal history as a survivor of childhood abuse.

And so The X-Files: I want to believe ends up being more about the limits and meaning of forgiveness, and ultimately the existence of God, than about whether the world is about to be colonized by other planets. As often in mainstream fiction (and good theology), a distinction is drawn between the divine and church authorities; the creators seem to argue that you can believe in God when your faith in the church has been stripped bare. Scully tells Mulder she wants to 'get away from the darkness', and he responds by suggesting that 'it doesn't work that way. I think the darkness finds you', which sounds morbid unless you see it as an honest reflection on the nature of spiritual vocation: you can't get away from the hound of heaven.

There are problems with I Want to Believe - its choice of bad guy reinforces the stereotype that those who are abused will in turn cause suffering to others. This cheapens the film artistically, and may be psychologically damaging to vulnerable members of the audience. There's some pretty brutal violence, and some loose ends (you too will wonder why severed limbs were being left in ice, just waiting to be found). But it looks great, the performances feel like old friends, and the lack of special effects or CGI suggests that the makers are actually trying to tell a story rather than merely create visual spectacle. And at its heart is a profound, and age-old spiritual quest; the makers of The X-Files weren't the first people to say it, but this movie gives an unexpectedly moving spin to a New Testament dilemma: I want to believe. Help my unbelief.

Gareth Higgins