“I believe; help my unbelief!”
But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ John 20:25b
“For the love of God is broader Than the measures of the mind; And the heart of the Eternal Is most wonderously kind…” Frederick William Faber
Why does one person believe, whereas another refuses? The father in the story in Mark’s Gospel is torn, wanting to believe that the Man from Nazareth can heal his son with just a word, and yet still susceptible to the natural skepticism that says such things don’t happen. In the case of the heroes of the X-Files Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), Mulder is the one who wants to believe in what cannot be seen or proven by the rational mind. He even has on his office wall a large poster showing a picture of a flying saucer with the logos in large letters declaring “I Want to Believe.” During the nine seasons of the X-Files run on television, Mulder was paired with the medically trained Scully to track down for the FBI supposed cases of the paranormal in relation to various crimes. Dr. Scully was more like the disciple Thomas, always skeptical of her partner’s beliefs and theories. They left the FBI when the agency shut down their section, going their separate ways, Mulder into hiding because some of his activities were illegal, and Dr. Scully joining the medical staff of a Catholic hospital.
As this “stand-alone” film begins, scenes of a woman being chased are intercut with a long line of FBI agents moving across a snow covered field, tapping the ground with their long staffs. A disheveled-looking old man is in the lead, saying that this is the place. They are amidst the mountains of West Virginia, and the agents are searching for clues to a missing female FBI agent. Agent Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) is in charge, and it is apparent that neither she nor her assistant put much faith in the man who at last drops to his knees and declares that this is the place. Nonetheless, the men dig into the cold ground, eventually uncovering a severed arm. From the three deep slashes on the back of the hand we know, from having watched the intercut sequence, that the arm belonged to the man who attacked the woman.
Meanwhile, admitting that they need help in what seems to be a paranormal situation, the Bureau has persuaded Scully, now a surgeon at a Catholic hospital, to get in touch with Mulder. He is disposed to reject the Bureau’s request, which comes with a full pardon for any of his past transgressions, but just as she leaves, he decides to accept. When he meets the former priest Fr. Joseph Crissman (Billy Connolly), the psychically-gifted man who had led the FBI agents in the search that uncovered the severed arm, Mulder tends to accept the reality of the man’s claim that he has been receiving visions. These not only included hazy images of the missing agent, but also the sound of dogs barking. Scully, on the other hand, not only is disbelieving, but also contemptuous of Fr. Joe. In her view the ex-priest is to be loathed because he is a convicted pedophile, defrocked and living in a community of other pedophiles who support and keep watch on each other, lest they give in to their dark urges. When at their first meeting she asks him what he was praying for when they entered the room, he replies that he was praying for his “immortal soul.” Almost sneeringly she asks if God hears his prayers. This disdain, reflecting society’s loathing for such sexual predators, runs throughout the film, raising an important question in regard to an understanding of the grace of God.
A subplot that ultimately leads to a clue in solving the case is Scully’s deep, emotional involvement in the case of a young boy plagued by a disease so rare that there is no known cure. Scully would like to try an experimental bone marrow treatment that is painful and that very likely will not work. Yet without it, the boy will certainly die within a few weeks. The priest who administers the hospital wants to take the case out of Scully’s hands and have the boy transferred to hospice care, and even the long-suffering parents accept his recommendation. Thus Scully, under double pressure, decides to drop out of the search for the missing FBI agent, believing that the ex-priest can be of no help in finding her—indeed, Scully thinks the woman is probably dead by now. When the administrator goes over Scully’s head at a hospital staff meeting that reviews patient care, she has to decide whether to continue to press for the operation or to give in. Insisting on the operation could jeopardize her position. Strangely, encouragement for her to press on has come from a source she discounts, Fr. Joe, whose enigmatic last words to her were, “Don’t give up.”
The filmmakers kept their promise that the film stands alone. I saw only one or two of the episodes of the TV series, yet I had no problem in seeing the deep relationship between Scully and Mulder, two people who deeply love each other but whose temperaments and basic belief systems are so dissimilar that they cannot live together. The acting of the principals is excellent, and there are enough twists and moments of suspense in the plot to keep us guessing and looking forward to the next scene. Best of all for this viewer is the theme of radical grace running throughout the film. Not since the excellent film The Woodsman, in which Kevin Bacon played a convicted pedophile desperately trying to go straight, has this theme been treated so insightfully. As I think back on the film the strains of Frederick William Faber hymn ” There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy, Like the Wideness of the Sea” runs through my mind. It is a hymn that I would like to share with Scully.
May contain spoilers.
1) How would you describe Scully and Mulder in regard to their world views? Which of them comes closest to your own? Has belief, in the sense of faith, been a struggle for you?
2) Reflect upon the exchange between Assistant Agent Mosely Drummy, who shares his boss’s and Scully’s loathing of Fr. Joe, and Mulder: “I don’t believe this.” Mulder, “You know, that’s been your problem from the very beginning.” How is this similar to the disciple Thomas’s “problem” in the Gospel of John?
3) Which of the two are more accepting of Fr. Joe?
(Note the humor in the following exchange in which Mulder and Special Agent Dakota Whitney are discussing Fr. Joe’s mystic visions: Mulder: “This is not an exact science. If it were me I’d be on the guy 24/7. I’d be in bed with him kissing his holy ass.” The agent reveals, “Father Joe is a convicted pedophile.” Mulder, “Maybe I’d stay out of bed with him.” 4) The last lines in the film dealing with Fr. Joe are worth pondering. Mulder says, “Scully? Why would he say that? ‘Don’t give up.’ Why would he say such a thing to you?” She replies, “I think that was clearly meant for you, Mulder.” He replies, “He didn’t say it to me. He said it to you. If Father Joe were the devil, why would he say the opposite of what the devil might say? Maybe that’s the answer, the larger answer. Don’t give up.” What do you think” That Fr. Joe was referring to her staying on the case of the missing agent? Or her struggle with colleagues at the hospita; concerning the dying boy? Or is Mulder” s “the larger answer” perhaps referring to Scully’s faith struggle, m
aking this a version of the father’s plea, “I believe, help my unbelief” ?
5) The above conversation continues with: Mulder: Don’t give up.
Scully: Please don’t make this any harder than it already is.
Mulder: If you have any doubts, [wraps his arms around Scully allowing her to rest her head on his chest] Scully: any doubts at all, call off that surgery and then we’ll get out of here [pause] Mulder: Just me and you.
Scully: As far away from the darkness as we can get?
Mulder: [Mulder loosens his embrace enough to look into Scully’s eyes] I’m not sure it works that way. I think maybe the darkness finds you and me.
Scully:I know it does.
Mulder: Let it try.
[Mulder and Scully embrace again, this time pulling together in a passionately long kiss as the scene fades into the credits] What do you think will happen between the two?