Early in The X Files: I Want to Believe, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), long ago demobbed from the FBI, are back in the Bureau's headquarters, waiting outside a closed door to take a meeting with their former colleagues. They glance at a wall portrait of the President ... and for a moment we hear the first six notes of the whistled theme that cued '90s TV watchers to the weekly spookiness of The X Files. Hmmm. Could George W. Bush be an alien or an alien abductee? A yes to either question would explain so much.
On the other side of the door is a photo of J. Edgar Hoover. Staring at it, Mulder and Scully just shrug, but that's unfair to the FBI's snoop extraordinaire, the vicar of voyeurs, the patron saint of the TV show's belief that under every bed, in every closet or out in a pumpkin patch is something very scary that could bring America to its knees. And even if it doesn't, it's worth tracking down, keeping in a locked drawer. Knowledge is power, and belief in the dark side spurs you to gain that knowledge.
The TV show, which ran from 1993 to 2002, and for its first five seasons or so artfully explored all crevasses of paranormal fiction psy-fi could have had Bush and Hoover as its patron saints, its Janus heads. They expressed the show's continuing, contradictory catchphrases: "I Want to Believe" and "Trust No One." Each Sunday night at nine, the series would juggle the concepts of blind faith (the need to find meaning and pattern in the random events of the universe) and paranoia (which, as any neurotic would tell you, is just common sense accompanied by theremin music). Hip and weird, and reveling in the emotional voyeurism at the heart of any detective show, The X Files spanned the Bill Clinton Era or, roughly, the time between the two attacks on the World Trade Center when America's political and social life was so placid that we had to invent our own monsters. Then 9/11 exploded in our faces, and the horror shows were on the nightly news.
In the new movie, directed by X Files creator Chris Carter and written by Carter and series producer Frank Spotnitz, Mulder and Scully are back, but so much has changed that they seem the aliens. For an obvious start, the stars are older. Anderson, 25 when the show premiered, will hit 40 next month, two days after Duchovny turns 48. In the new movie, he's bearded and wasted-looking, her profile is more hawklike; and the camera traces the lines the intervening years have written on their faces with the odd intensity of Nicholas Cage running his finger over the route on an ancient map in National Treasure.
A subtler anachronism is the seriousness with which Mulder and Scully take their work and themselves. On TV, Duchovny settled quickly into his role as an obsessive plodder; Anderson's gravity served as a rebuke to all the actresses her age who spoke in baby talk and aspired to nothing higher than Baywatch. The movie continues that dark, quiet tone, which means that today's moviegoers will have to forgo expectations of wisecracking heroes and snarling psychopaths, and to take seriously a couple of anguished folks who look and behave with the tired tenseness of anchors on C-SPAN.
Which is why, this weekend, perhaps four times as many moviegoers will take in The Dark Knight on its second weekend as will see Mulder and Scully on their first date in six years.
Sins of the Fathers
A female agent has been murdered, and her colleague Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) has enlisted Mulder and Scully to help her find the killer. One clue comes from visions of the murder claimed by Father Joe (Billy Connolly), a Catholic priest who had been convicted of sexually abusing dozens of altar boys decades before. In line with their old TV selves, Mulder is sympathetic to the man's assertions, Skully skeptical. "Do you believe him?" an agent (rapper Alvin "Xzibit" Joiner) dismissively asks Mulder, who replies, "Let's say I wanna believe."