The new movie "The X-Files: I Want to Believe," which opens Friday, has important issues on its mind: Catholic faith, the seeming cruelty of God, the suffering of innocent children, whether David Duchovny looks good in a beard, and gay Frankensteins.
Twentieth Century Fox has hushed up the movie, though its publicists’ mission to shroud the film in secrecy has been more than matched by moviegoers’ inclination to shroud it in indifference. It has been ten years since the last big-screen outing for FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), whose prime-time series went off the air with a whimper in 2002 after years of fading audience interest.
The new movie–I’ll go ahead and spoil key plot points on the assumption that you’re one of the silent majority who no longer cares about Mulder and Scully, if you ever did–finds Scully, now working with live bodies (she appears to be a brain surgeon, though on the TV show she was a forensics expert who presided at autopsies) and continuing a romantic relationship with Mulder, drawn into a case of women being kidnapped and held prisoner in the West Virginia woods. Her investigation is intercut with the story of her treatment of a boy who is suffering from a terminal brain disease at a Catholic hospital whose ruling priests repeatedly advise Dr. Scully that no more can be done for the boy, so he should be moved into hospice care to manage his inevitable demise.
Scully has a bright idea: stem cell research! In a hilarious scene, the movie shows her literally Googling "stem cell research" to figure out how to save the boy’s life. Bingo, she assembles a file folder of material, then goes into surgery to fix the boy’s problem.
In Scully’s spare time, she follows the trail of the kidnapped women. It turns out that they are being held in a prison/dungeon/lab run by a gay Frankenstein who is trying to graft the head of his male lover (they were "married in the state of Massachusetts," someone intones) onto the body of a kidnapped woman. (Wouldn’t he then have to become straight to enjoy the resulting relationship with his creation? How angry are gays going to be with this movie’s suggestion that what gay men want is to be women?)
What’s bizarre about the movie is that it never makes the thematic connection between the two plot lines. It never suggests there is anything remotely creepy or Frankenstein-ish about harvesting embryonic stem cells from one human life to prolong another. The gay Frankenstein is shown as absolutely evil, while Scully’s DIY effort to cure an incurable disease (one wonders if terminal patients are going to be asking their doctors, "Did you think of Googling stem cell research?") is an absolute good that is likely to save the terminally ill boy. The film doesn’t say whether she is using fetal stem cells or adult stem cells, but given that the commonly understood definition of stem cells, particularly in Hollywood, is embryonic stem cells, and given that the breakthrough in adult stem cells was only a few months ago, it seems reasonable to infer that Dr. Scully is using embryonic stem cells in her improvisational surgery. No one in the movie so much as makes a wisecrack about Dr. Scully’s methods, much less raises the issue of whether there is a moral dilemma–even though she is working at a Catholic hospital where she has been told to let the boy die and where, presumably, embryonic stem cell research is not held in high regard. Watching movies like "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" makes it clear that Hollywood is not a place where carefully considered liberal arguments hold sway so much as a place where no argument has taken place to begin with.