As I had planned, I went to see the new X-Files movie this weekend.
Last night I ended up discussing the movie with Kim, who had just seen it that day, and after a little bit of whining about the things that weren’t quite right or druthers that were left unrequited (aliens! I never thought I’d say that, but an X-Files movie without aliens doesn’t seem quite right to me), I was compelled to say, “My God, what a fantastic narrative arc!” I wasn’t just talking about the movie, although that was certainly part of it–I was talking about the whole universe of the show. Because the show’s main objective–the thing that it was always grappling with–is the question of how long a sane person can look into the darkness and not lose themselves to it. And what the show ends up giving us are two beautifully articulated characters who can actually muster up the courage to look in the first place, when so many of us are turning our heads and plugging our ears and humming to ourselves, waiting for something better to surface, or at least a lie that we can reasonably believe.
This is what I am trying to do with AUT, what I’ve been trying, with varying degrees of success, from the very beginning. My characters, although I did not realize this until Friday, are influenced by my admiration for the Mulder and Scully characters, in that they, too, refuse to accept the answers they’ve been given because they can be “programmed, categorized and easily referenced.” They’re going on, at first, almost nothing but gut instinct, the very intense feeling that something is wrong, that the people they know, the very geography of the town that they live in with the foothills that separate it and the hill/valley dichotomy that divides it, are conspiring, however consciously or unconsciously, to rein them in and make them behave when there are truths out there too big to ignore. I wanted–needed–to write this book because I think that our lives, even or possibly especially as adolescents, are much darker than we allow ourselves to imagine. But the truth is not the only, or even the essential, point. What I also wanted to do was to present a problem, then go back and isolate the moment or moments that catalyzed the problem and chart the escalation of the situation. I think that there’s a lot we can learn from that sort of retrospection in narrative, the idea that something cannot be solved unless it can be unwoven and examined from the very beginning.
This is how The X-Files has always operated, and of course it’s not at all different from plain old detective work, both in fiction and in real life. The overlaying of the supernatural is symbolic, in that it magnifies what we already know to be true of real life, what caused the ancients to invent their gods of war and thunder and destruction, that here be monsters, and that the world is full of mystery. Just because we now know what makes the tides rise and fall does not make it any easier to make sense of more personal horrors, like pedophilia or rape or murder. Mulder’s watchword throughout the series was always “possibility”, and his defining characteristic was that he saw it where others did not. “When convention and science offer us no answers, might we not finally turn to the fantastic as a plausibility?” he asks Scully in the pilot episode. Her rejoinder, “What I find fantastic is any notion that there are answers beyond the realm of science. The answers are there. You just have to know where to look”, is less powerful because it is so closed-minded, and in any case it gets no disagreement from Mulder–he believes exactly two thirds of what she said. People in the show mistake his methods all the time–they think because he’s willing to entertain any possibility that he wants the answer to be supernatural, or extraterrestrial. He does not. What makes Mulder unique is that he is willing to jump first into the abyss, to say “If this is where the answers are, this is where I will seek them.”
I find myself fascinated by people like that. I am certainly not one of them. I am not brave, or willing to go to the ends of the earth for answers. I would rather suffer in ignorance than face devastating truths, but my characters are not like that. I admire them as I would real people, and I hope to someday be more like them, and I think I must have something like that in me or else where would they come from? But what I’ve learned writing AUT, what The X-Files clearly shows is that answers come with a price. At least, it means the possibility of learning that your fears are real, at the very worst it means losing almost everything to the darkness. No wonder Scully resisted the pull of an X-file where Mulder could not–it was his life’s work, he thinks he has nothing left to lose, but she is a doctor. Where he always sought to tear things down, to destroy conspiracies, rip apart veils obfuscating facts and truths, she sought to bring things back together, to piece together the puzzle, to sew up that which separates, to heal the wounded. It is why she was drawn to him in the first place, but also why she understood that her life, however bleak, could exist without him–she could still do good without the X-files. But what the movie really boils down to is what Mulder tells Scully at the end, that two people so fixated on the truth (both Mulder’s supernatural truth and Scully’s scientific and religious truth) will never escape the darkness that serves to conceal it.
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