There’s an X-Files movie just sitting out there, ignored and unloved by the fandom because the filmmakers decided to try relaunching the series after 6 years off the air without the alien mythos being the backbone of the story. It’s time to revisit it with a new perspective, knowing there will be no aliens.
Personally, I agree with their decision to do a Monster of the Week kind of movie rather than a mythos heavy movie where you need to see every episode of the TV series to understand what is going on. The first X-Files movie suffers from this just a little bit, you needed to see so much of the series to get a good understanding of what was going on there. It got lucky because it was released in the original heydey of The X-Files and EVERYBODY knew what was going on due to them watching it week to week; it was a phenomenon.
This decision to leave the aliens out of this sequel gives us a fantastic story involving head/body transplantation based on the experiments of Vladimir Demikhov. In the mid 20th century, he grafted the second head of a dog onto another dog’s body. He was a pioneer surgeon that paved the way for human heart and lung transplants. If you so desire, you can find footage of Demikhov and his two headed dog as well as a dog head that he kept alive separate from a body using the same machine they use to keep people alive during heart transplants on YouTube (actually, here it is). The movie is also rooted in an experiment done at Case Western Reserve University in 1963 of a head/body transplant on a monkey.
A little backstory about me before we get started because I can see all the tweets now (tweet at me, people!). I’ve been a fan of X-Files since I was in elementary school. That’s 24 years now. I’ve been through it all with this fandom and I’m convinced that there’s no one who hates X-Files more than its fans (I see this pretty frequently in other fandoms too, like Star Wars) I don’t have the problems with it that the more vocal parts of the fandom do, I love it as it is, both the series and the movies, it’s one of the few films I would consider exceptionally good. Easily a top ten film for me, and a desert island film. It’s one that I like more and more every time. I don’t encounter movies like this. I’ve seen it around 8-9 times and it is literally better every time I see it. I just find more things to like. I’m probably gonna watch it again once I’m done writing about it, I can hear it calling to me.
In and of itself, this is a tightly woven thriller about wanting some kind of hope for things to improve and the strength to not give up on faith. It is a gift of a character study between Mulder and Scully. They both have really strong emotional arcs throughout this movie, not only together but on their own as well. They really get a chance to shine and grow as people without the constraints of a network-mandated “will they or won’t they get together”. They finally take a hard stance on their relationship and just go with it, dealing with the consequences as they go. There’s finally some emotional catharsis seeing Mulder and Scully together actually saying they love each other instead of all the dancing around it they did during the series. Their last scene together is especially moving.
The secret about the X-Files is that it’s not the aliens that make it great. It’s the political intrigue between the agents and their seemingly monolithic government. It’s also the chemistry between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson.
The emotional plot that Scully goes through in this is such a strong point in the movie. The first X-Files movie is largely Mulder’s but Scully takes the spotlight in this one. She struggles with herself and Mulder’s relationship being strained by ushering him back into that darkness that is the FBI and The X-Files themselves. It’s a very hard decision to make. Do you allow him to continue to be isolated long-term due to his fugitive status? Would you push him towards going back to the people who forcibly isolated him just to get him out, and possibly be forgiven for past actions so he can be a free man?
I’ve isolated myself a lot in the past and those effects aren’t good. Even though the way Mulder gets out is not ideal, he’s still out of that room. It totally makes sense for Scully to do a complete 180 with trying to reign him back in a bit later on in the film too. She wants him to get out of the house but she still wants their life together and the FBI takes all your time and puts so much strain on literally everything. The darkness of humanity can swallow you whole. It’s a very delicate balance to keep.
David Duchovny plays the person coming out of long-term isolation very well. He’s very withdrawn with pretty much everyone but Scully throughout the first half and then his confidence starts to return and becomes the full on truth seeking Mulder that we all know and love, with thanks to Amanda Peet’s character. She gives him a real X-File and something to believe in again. This makes her death even more horrific when you consider how important she was to helping Mulder regain a sense of belief and purpose.
I really connected with his struggle to believe in something, as well as his cynicism towards his past self’s naivete. He’s just grasping at straws trying to believe in one thing, to come back into this crazy world. He’s been in isolation for 6 years and has had the time to dwell on his personal failures; the way the FBI completely screwed him over and basically stole his ability to be a free person because he wouldn’t fall into line. It makes perfect sense that his skepticism would grow and his self worth decrease.