Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ten Thirteen: I Want to Believe, part 2

Abstract: The so-called "Mythology" of The X-Files centered on alien abductions, colonization and genetic experimentation. The feature film The X-Files: I Want to Believe did the exact same thing, only in a symbolic, allegorical fashion. Why the reverse-metaphor? What is the film trying to tell us? And what connections does this mysterious Mythology have with the mythology of the ancient Mysteries?

Read part one of this series here.

In I Want to Believe, the exiled Mulder and Scully are called back into the FBI by a young agent named Dakota Whitney and her skeptical partner Agent Drummy, who are searching for an abducted female comrade named Monica Bannon. In the midst of their search, a self-styled psychic named Father Joe cold-calls the FBI and leads them to a severed arm buried in a frozen West Virginia lake.

Despite the fact that Father Joe was a notorious serial pedophile, Mulder wants to believe that his psychic powers are real (if to vindicate his X-Files work, if nothing else). Joe then leads the task force back to the frozen lake, in which the severed body parts of multiple victims are encased. Another woman, Cheryl Cunningham, is abducted by Janke, a Russian emigre working as a courier for an medical transport service. He is working with a team of rogue scientists using abductees for grafting experiments in a grim, fenced-in compound.

Consumed with the care of a critically-ill boy named Christian Fearon (fascinating name), Scully begs off the case. She verbally attacks Father Joe upon meeting him, but later saves his life. Mulder and Scully are also growing apart, a situation not helped by Agent Whitney, who is boosting Mulder's ego in order to lure him away from his long-time partner (Whitney plays the Nephthys-seductress role here).

In classic X-Files "sympathetic villain" fashion, it's discovered that Janke and his employer Franz are lovers, and the abductees are being used in experiments to save Franz, who is dying of cancer. Using advanced stem cell technology, the doctors are trying to graft Franz's head onto the abducted women. The FBI's agent's body didn't take, so Cheryl is now being prepared for the transplant. Mulder follows Janke to the remote secret lab where the operation is being performed, but is taken down. With Mulder missing, Scully enlists Skinner's help and they discover the lab and rescue Mulder and Cheryl.

Not exactly a nail-biting plot, and if you're not familiar with the series (particularly the early seasons, of which the story draws upon extensively for mood and plot points) it won't mean all that much to you. Given the pitch black mood of the film and the thorny social and sexual issues raised by it, it's no surprise it got mowed down by The Dark Knight. But this is The X-Files, and all of the action in the film is beneath the surface. And there's a hell of a lot going on down there.


Now, let's cut to the core of the matter: some fans had complained that the film didn't deal with the show's Mythology- aliens, abductions and colonization- but in fact, it's about nothing else.

Janke's aerial POV signals alien identity

Skeptics have long dismissed alien abduction phenomena as the compensatory fantasies of victims of human abuse (particularly repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse*). Reflecting that, IWTB reverses the Mythology and sets it back in the real world. But are we merely looking at multiple layers of metaphors, masking one another?

Meaning: "I'm an alien."
We do see an alien conspiracy - Russian aliens, who have set up a colony to create hybrids.

These aliens are abducting people, and using their bodies for advanced genetic experimentation.

• In a gruesome twist on AAT, the aliens are trying to literally graft their alien "consciousness" onto the native women.

• All of this is going on in West Virginia, Ground Zero of the human/alien hybridization database in the original series.
We see other symbolic reminders tying back to alien identity from the previous Mythology:

The image of the dead woman's face trapped beneath the ice hearkens back to the images of abductees trapped in glass tubes in Fight the Future, equating the abduction metaphor in IWTB to that explicit motif. That ship was in the Arctic Circle, another tundra environment.

Just as Whitney and Drummy are Reyes and Doggett, Christian is obviously a stand-in for William. This circumvents having to retrace the tortured Mytharc of the final season. The actor even looks a lot like a cross between David (his coloring, hair) and Gillian (in the eyes, especially). Christian is dying of a brain disease (interesting metaphor there, itself), just as Mulder was before his abduction/death/resurrection.

Mulder's disease was the result of exposure to the radiation of the Godship, which William could control telepathically.† His bedsheets offer another clue in this context...

...the sky pattern reminding us of William's control over the star/planet mobile. Christian also seems to be psychic/intuitive. He realizes that Father Ibarra wants him to die, and later that Scully is afraid the treatment for his disease won't work. One of the results of exposure to the Godship radiation was psychic powers.

Also note basketball, sunflower seeds and jawbone (!)

Aside from "I Want to Believe" poster with the famous Billy Meier photograph that gives the film its title, we see little visual cues here and there, such as Mulder's large and ostentatious desk lamp, which just happens to be in the shape of a classic flying saucer.

And thrown into the midst of this is Father Joe, who represents the state-sanctioned institutionalization of mythology on one hand and the systematic perpetration of child abuse on the other. But he also is psychic, which in XF parlance is the primary indicator that a person's innate alien DNA has been activated. As co-writer Frank Spotnitz said of The X-Files, “all episodes are Mythology because mankind is part-alien.”

Pitted against him are Mulder and Scully, UFO believers who are themselves genetically alien (or immortal, as in Scully's case). Both sides of the argument as to the source of the alien abduction phenomenon- reality or repressed memory of abuse- play off each other in the frozen wasteland of post 9/11 America.

Which is the allegory?

Added to the strange, symbolic retelling of the Mytharc is the traditional use of ancient mythology within the X-Files Mythology. The Eleusinian Mysteries are the core narrative in IWTB, just as the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice was the core of Fight the Future and the Mysteries of Isis informed the AAT storyline in Seasons 7 and 8.

Monica Bannon is Persephone, abducted and brought down to Hell. Persephone is associated with Spring and was spotted by Hades while picking flowers, so accordingly Monica defends herself with a gardening tool. Given the exoteric narrative of the film, it's probably not an accident that the agent who plays Monica showed up before in Chris Carter's previous Frankenstein riff, "The Post-Modern Prometheus." That just shows you how he thinks.º

Cheryl is Persephone as well. Here we see her abducted amidst giant rolls of hay, tying back into the agricultural motif of the Mysteries. The constant backdrop of snow neatly parallels the barren earth of endless winter following Persephone's abduction.

Janke is Hades (with a bit of Set thrown in for good measure). The iconic shot of him underwater parallels Hades' place in the Underworld, looking up and spying Cheryl/Persephone. Janke is played by Callum Keith Rennie, who first appeared in the X-Files Universe in "Lazarus," an episode that also deals with consciousness being grafted onto another body (the title also references Osiris). The symbolism goes even deeper with this character...

...such as his menacing Ford pickup that makes a nice stand-in for Hades' chariot, and hence plays a major part in abductions. Cheryl drives a Subaru Outback, which opens a whole other can of worms.

Janke also has a two-headed dog, a gene-spliced modern version of Cerberus. Mulder encounters the dual-domed beastie after hopping the fence to the Russian compound, a Hell-on-Earth if ever there was one.

Inside the compound, we see Cheryl submerged into a vat of ice water, again symbolizing the descent into the Underworld. She's about to take her place as the Queen of Hell, once her head is removed and replaced with that of Franz, that is.

So what about our stars? Mulder repeats his role of Demeter seeking Persephone from the Samantha storyline, which Scully helpfully reminds us when she tells Mulder "this is about you trying to save your sister." We get some semiotic tips feminizing Mulder in the first half of the story, such as when enters "the woman's side."

Scully too is Demeter when she and Skinner rescue Cheryl/Persephone from Hell. Demeter was known as mater dolorosa in Eleusis, which means- you guessed it - "Our Lady of Sorrows."

Now what about Christian? In this scene the hospital staff decides to stop treating Christian and ship him off to a hospice to die (Father Ibarra claims it's God's will). Scully objects, saying his condition can be treated with stem cell therapy, but another doctor objects. Is "putting the boy through hell" another clue?

Like Isis, Demeter worked as a nursemaid during her search for Persephone and treated a sickly young boy by burning away his mortality. In both cases, their treatments ("putting them through hell," essentially) were opposed. And it goes with out saying that Isis is associated with Sirius, so DNA Scully must be Demeter here.

Here are the only characters Chris Carter acknowledges as symbols- the nuns are the Three Graces. It's worth noting that these scene takes place as the snow is melting outside, and Cheryl and Mulder have been rescued.


Modern scholars like Gordon Wasson and Terence McKenna have shown that the "mystery" behind the Mysteries was the use of powerful hallucinogens like LSA and amanita muscaria, which led to rituals including everything from wild dancing to group sex. Wasson has argued that Dionysus cultists actually used an admixture of powerful hallucinogens and herbs as their "wine," not the usual mix of fermented grapes, and that the kykeon of the Eleusinian Mysteries was made of rye ergot, itself a hallucinogen.

As we've seen in the "Alien Dreaming and the Widening Gyre" series, hallucinogens and alien contact seem to be connected in ways we don't yet understand. The liturgy of the Mithraic Mysteries- generally believed to be the most sober and conservative of the ancient sects - includes some pretty startling X-Files-type encounters with angels and snake-faced humanoids inside flying discs, which have doors and exhaust and artificial light fixtures and all of the rest of it. All of this follows the ingestion of a bitter mixture of herbs and other plant derivatives by the initiate. And strangely enough, the return of The X-Files after a six-year absence preceded an absolute explosion of UFO sightings all across the world...

As mentioned before, X-Files episodes that delve into AAT and alien identity were always preceded by unconnected stories about hallucination or hallucinogens, a pattern too consistent to be random. We don't have any explicit reference to either in I Want to Believe, but we do have a lot of parallels to several Mystery religions, the Eleusinian Mysteries being the most obvious. And what's more, there is an implicit connection to hallucinogens in the film's central message, "don't give up..."

While promoting the film in 2008, Chris Carter claimed that IWTB was initially inspired by a lecture he attended given by Huston Smith. The idea for IWTB was sketched out sometime in 2001, not long after Smith published Cleansing the Doors of Perception, a book of essays on Smith's experiences with entheogens. I'm not sure if the lecture Carter attended coincided with the book, but the timeline there is fascinating in light of the connections in the series itself.

I still haven't put the final pieces of this film together. The combination of the reverse-Mythology and the standard mythic allegories means something, but maybe not something that can be reduced to a soundbite. There's definitely a power in some of the myths that seems to speak to our unconscious, non-linear mind and the same certainly holds true with the UFO phenomenon.

I'd be perfectly happy if I Want to Believe is the final chapter of The X-Files, but if another sequel is due for 2012, I'd really like to hear something approaching a definitive answer regarding the strange connections we've been poring through around here. Well, as definitive as allowed within the Ten-Thirteen milieu.


* The only time skeptics will acknowledge recovered or repressed memory of childhood abuse is when they are trying to explain alien abduction phenomena away.

† William may well have contracted such a disease because of Spender's magnetite injection. His adoptive family lived in Wyoming, not far from Calgary where the second Godship was found.

º From an article on Marco Niccoli, who plays Christian- Adding to the film's enigmatic nature, Benedet said she doesn't know why Carter specifically wanted someone with cerebral palsy. She added that Marco's character doesn't have the condition in the film; he's just "terminally ill."

"But with Chris Carter things are always related. Like Mulder, that's his mother's maiden name. And his production company, 1013 Productions, that's his birth date. So I am wondering why, but I'm sure gonna ask him."