"X" Marks the Cross

The X-Files
area theaters

Jesus Christ Superstar
Stevens Square Park,
Wednesday, July 1 at dusk

The oft-aired trailer for the X-Files movie has already worn out one scene for me. FBI special agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), loaded with tequila and disgust, sits before a bartender explaining what he does for a living. "I'm the key figure in an ongoing global conspiracy that reaches into the lives of every man, woman, and child on this planet... the highest levels of government... aliens..."--blah blah blah. It's funny for about three seconds. How much easier for everyone if he'd just copped an appropriate, and agreeably concise, line from Rice/Webber's frustrated Messiah in Jesus Christ Superstar: "I look for truth and find that I get damned."

Then again, how damned is Mulder? He's got a foxy partner (Gillian Anderson), suave suits, and lots of friends who confide all the state secrets he could possibly swallow. No one will ever string him up on a cross, because the high priests of postmodern conspiracy--unlike those of J.C.'s day--recognize that martyrdom makes movements. They just let him talk (and talk), and--funny thing--no one believes him. That's Mulder's Contemporary Complaint, his Modern Hell: The truth is out there, but it's just one truth in a giant supermarket of 'em, and so few people will buy it that all his amazing revelations are effectively nullified.

So why spend money to watch this loser? I've come up with five reasons, with a little more help from Jesus Christ Superstar.

1. We dare not leave him to his own devices/His half-witted fans will get out of control: The plot contrivance that powers The X-Files, on screens big and small, is that the evil conspirators who understand that one man's voice won't stop them still fear this one man. So Mulder and his partner Dana Scully (Anderson) continually attract a shitstorm of threats and violence. Watching Mulder risk certain death to rescue Scully yet one more time (the film's familiar climax), viewers are invited to imagine that global leaders really do care about what average people think--care enough, indeed, that they'll send the very best assassins to kill the messengers.

Of course, The X-Files knows that fantasy for what it is, and so do we. Don't worry that the requirement of summer blockbusters for some sort of plot closure will wreck this happy contradiction.

2. I see blood and destruction: In The X-Files' doomsday vision, alien invaders don't show up and vaporize everything, a la Independence Day (the subject of a crass, if delightful, X-Files joke). They have byzantine plans involving creeping black oil, human gestation, and cloning. The movie elucidates these schemes immeasurably: Any X-Files ingenue can appreciate the plot. But this clarity hasn't prevented screenwriter-producer Chris Carter from coming up with some furiously twisted scenarios--and director Rob Bowman uses his hefty budget to put the gross stuff right into our laps. One scene with swarming bees actually had me swatting at the air.

3. Roll on up--for my price is down/Come on in--for the best in town: There are no commercials.

4. I don't know how to love him: So far in this series, Agent Scully has been abducted, injected with some weird DNA, and almost killed by a bizarre cancer; she's lost and regained her abduction memories, met and lost a child who could be hers, and seen an angel and the devil himself, and yet up to this season's TV cliffhanger, she still doubted Mulder's belief in the paranormal. If the abuse Scully takes in this movie finally cements her to Mulder's cause (I'm not saying it does: see lyric above), will we ever hear that condescending sigh again? Glimpse that sardonic eyebrow? How will the show maintain the duo's all-important push me/pull you tension if they're both yanking on the same side of the rope? One clue here: Scully's increasing alien-ation. Ah yes, only the body of our straight white hero has remained inviolate, unblemished by the invasive aliens. (Black oil? Hmmm...)

5. Still I'm sure that you can rock the cynics if you try: In a move that's either clumsily topical or incredibly cynical, the X-Files movie references black helicopters, Waco and Ruby Ridge, and, with one haunting sequence, Oklahoma City. To utilize these signature right-wing militia lodestones in a slight bit of Hollywood entertainment may be funny (well, the helicopters are), but it's not exactly respectful. Then again, the movie's creators are betting that their core audience perceives the "New World Order" and alien abductions as the elaborate metaphors they seem to be, stories to account for a sense of social insecurity and helplessness. It feels cathartic, speaking as one of that core, to wade in with Mulder and Scully and kick butt on those symbols, even as we mock ourselves for believing that butt-kicking is possible. Political apathy never tasted so good.

 
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