Friday, October 10, 2008

THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE – MOVIE REVIEW

Cast: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly
Director: Christ Carter
Runtime: 104 min.
Rating: ****
Genre: Thriller, Sci-fi, Drama

        A woman is driving back to her home in the middle of the night. The place is somewhere in Virginia and the time is 10 p.m. We cut to morning where a group of FBI agents are marching in line and digging through a field of thick snow. We cut back to the woman again as she parks the car in the garage. We cut to a dog’s P.O.V. as it looks at the woman and barks through the glass window. We cut back again to the FBI agents and we learn that a female agent (Amanda Peet) is calling the shots and that an old man is leading the way. We cut to the woman again as she gets out of the car and is surprised by the intensity with which her dog is barking. She sees footsteps in the snow and realizes there’s someone lurking in the dark. We cut again to the FBI agents and here we wonder why the film doesn’t show it linearly so that we find better rhythm and clarity to the narrative. We’re wrong, because one, that old man is a psychic, and two, when the old man finds a severed arm of a man in the snow, we’re immediately drawn in. The missing woman is an FBI agent.
    The X-Files is a surprise, a pleasant and a touching one. I say surprise, because it is a film where explosions and car chases are replaced by passages of long and thoughtful conversations. There’s Agent Fox Mulder (Duchovny) and Agent Dana Scully (Anderson), and we’re intrigued because there’s a mystery chasing them as much as they’re chasing it. They’ve left the FBI, the former opting to be a recluse and the latter a doctor at a convent hospital. They’ve their own battles, and they’re called upon to aide in the search for the missing FBI agent because of their expertise with psychics. Now clairvoyance is a greatly debated field, and its application to solving cases finds as many skeptics as anywhere else. More so here, and for two reasons, which when considered mutually and with respect to the ability, are strangely fascinating – (i) the old man is a priest and (ii) he is a convicted pedophile.
    It is a small film, with characters that are as real as a major studio production based on a television and a pop-culture phenomenon can be. But in its own small ways it takes stabs at questions of morality, of faith, of spiritual interference, of signs that are as big as they can be. There’s George W. Bush and J. Edgar Hoover hanging side by side, and that would be on portraits (Feel free to interpret). The plot is often relegated to perform the services of a backdrop, and never does it takes precedence over the central questions. This is about them, about Scully and Mulder, and the plot serves as a means for them to reconcile with themselves. And for us to ponder at great length about it all, preferably in the middle of the night. Often it happens, that some films seem to light up my brain cells, and usually it is them which I enjoy writing about the most. And not surprisingly I would have watched these films in the night. Writing about them, well past midnight, evokes a sense of their atmosphere around me, and I remember all over again why I started in the first place. The X-Files is a lonely film, and it uses that loneliness as its atmosphere. I remember Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and how it uses the night to create a sense of intrigue and fascination coupled with the fear for the unknown. The X-Files isn’t set in the dark per se, but it feels like it is, or maybe it was inspired by night.
    Not many films know how to create an atmosphere about its subject. The key I believe in plots like this is to have the apt setting. The same thing unraveling itself on an urban stage and half the mystery would have vanished. There’s lots of snow, and the houses are surrounded by just that correct amount of wilderness. There aren’t many people so to speak. Now that I remember, there’s a minor chase scene on legs, but I feel the overall sense is one of calmness. The takes are long, and they’re shot with a static camera and as a result they involve us. We’re almost always presented a clear and composed picture, and that is because this is a film not as much about its missing people as it is about the beliefs about its central ones. There’s a little boy down at the Convent Hospital who has been diagnosed with Sandhoff disease (a terminal illness related to the central nervous system), and he’s sure to die if Scully doesn’t risk a bone marrow treatment. She Googles and there is a clue regarding the missing women waiting for her in that research, if only she would look. She doesn’t believe in psychics, and she doesn’t want to get back into the drudgeries and darkness of active investigation. I believe Scully has always been the reluctant one, whereas Mulder the more enthusiastic, and that always pulls Scully back in. Does Mulder himself believe the psychic? The psychic says he hears barking dogs in his visions. A tissue sample of the severed arm found earlier reveals doses of an animal tranquilizer. There’re plot contrivances if you choose to look at them that way, but how else can one show divine intervention. The so called signs so to speak. I went ahead and sought plausible explanations behind each of them, and I believe I found them. That makes me realize this is a superior thriller, because it is posing questions and arguments rather than tagging alongside one firm point of view.
    I learn the show has been off the air for a good part of six years. I have only ever watched four episodes, at various points in its run, and the one thing that seems to have stayed with me is the chemistry between Anderson and Duchovny. If ever an official list of the all-time great partners was released, they would be right up there. I knew they cared greatly about each other, but of what little I saw, I hadn’t had an idea if there were matters of the heart involved. I was silly, I know, for how can such warmth and affection not infect with feelings so serious. There’s a sequence where Scully and Mulder are in bed and the title of a book near to them has the title Beautiful People Having Sex. I’m not sure if that book was chosen just for the sake of its title. They’ve been in love, always been in love, and I guess it is the sort of cliffhanger television series derive great TRP from. If they would end up together or not. But of course they would. I wouldn’t be able to say for the fans but I have to admit I’m hooked. I wish to see how this beautiful relationship grew. It is much like Gordon and Batman, one that is based on eternal emotions of mutual faith and respect. Right now, I have probably realized why I missed the bus on television. They used to air it at 1830 on Sunday evenings on Star World. With all the commercial breaks and all, The X-Files for me, was simply the wrong series at the wrong time in the wrong place. Yes, in the darkness of the cinema hall, that is where. That is where The X-Files belongs.

1 comment:

Chumplick said...

Mr. Naidu,

What a pleasure it was for me to discover your thoughtful and well-written movie reviews! I was mystified why so many people seemed to dislike this movie, and am glad you hit the nail on the head.