How The X-Files Taught me to Dare to Dream

X files mulder scully movie fight future corn field

Last week, the TV show that changed my life turned 20 years old. I was happy to see that even mainstream news outlets such as Time Magazine and the Huffington Post not only acknowledged the anniversary, but wrote of the enduring influence The X-Files has had on entertainment over the past two decades.

I first started watching the show when I was around 13 years old. I grew up in Britain, and I distinctively remember getting hooked on the show when I saw the season three finale Talitha Cumi on the BBC. Previous to that, I’m afraid to say I’d somewhat avoided the show as I was all the media hype suggested that it was a horror show, and that didn’t really appeal to me. Boy, was I wrong.

I immediately became fanatical about the show. This was back in the days before multi-channel DVRs, mind you, and since we only had one TV in the house, I would often have to record episodes on a grainy VHS. Occasionally, the fates would conspire so that even that was not possible, and when that happened a handful of times, I would somehow get a copy of the missed episode either through Ebay or another fan I’d met online.

I joined email list groups (remember those?) to discuss the show with other X-Philes. I bought the official magazines, every book, and whatever other merchandise I could get my hands on. When the DVD boxsets were released, I made a point of acquiring each one on the day of release, and soon I had caught up and watched every episode so far, often while eating sunflower seeds.

At the time, I suppose I didn’t really know why I loved the show so much. I think back then, a big part of the appeal was the platonic friendship between Mulder and Scully. As a hormonal teenage boy, that was the kind of relationship I wanted to have someday – a true partnership with mutual admiration and respect, no matter what. Not just love, but real stability, genuine compassion, and true companionship.

Today, of course, I see so much more in the show – not least of which was the masterful way the show dealt with its central theme of faith throughout its run. I don’t care what the naysayers think, I will defend the second movie, I Want To Believe, as one of the very best things the show has ever done, and is in itself a crystallization its entire thesis.

In a very real way, the show became my savior. The teenage years are a tumultuous time for everyone, and The X-Files became my security blanket. I knew that no matter what else happened, Mulder and Scully would be there for me each week, and I could lose myself in their world for 45 minutes at a time. Focused on nothing else but the story unfolding in front of me.

I’ll admit: I went through a phase where I wanted to be an FBI agent, or failing that a forensic pathologist. Obviously that never happened, but the show nevertheless put me on the path I’m still on today. It made me want to tell stories for a living. The X-Files was a show where anything could happen. Literally. It wasn’t a police procedural about weird monsters, although sometimes it was. Other times it was a paranoid conspiracy show, an intimate character study, an action-packed blockbuster, or a screwball comedy. It was, as Agent Mulder might say, something that couldn’t be “programed, categorized, or easily referenced.” And it was all the better for it.

I wasn’t really a huge movie fan before The X-Files. Sure, I loved Jurassic Park and the Indiana Jones movies growing up, but it was only after The X-Files ended its nine-year run that I realized I needed something else to obsess over, and cinema at large became that thing. This was no doubt partially also caused by the fascinating behind-the-scenes books about the series. Reading how the show was created was my first crash course in film school and TV production.

Serendipitously, the year I really got into film was 1999 – the year of The X-Files‘ seventh season, which at the time was rumored to potentially be its last. As any cinephile knows, 1999 proved to be a watershed year in terms of cinematic milestones including American Beauty, Magnolia, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Eyes Wide Shut, Fight Club, Princess Mononoke, The Straight Story, The Matrix, The Iron Giant, The Blair Witch Project, Being John Malkovich… But it was The X-Files that originally taught me about storytelling. The fact that the show is now 20 years old makes me feel old. I am old. I turn 30 this year. Although I have accomplished many great things in my life, I am still yet to attain my goal of making my living telling stories as a screenwriter and director. But I will get there.

One of my many ideas – and probably the idea I’ve had in my head for the greatest length of time – is in no small part an homage to The X-Files. It’s the one idea that if I do nothing else, I have to realize at some point. It’s a story about alien abductions and faith, about a pure and honest love, about a father and a son. Although it is certainly not The X-Files, it is my lone chance of writing an X-Files episode and paying tribute to that great show.

Thank you to Chris Carter, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi, Vince Gilligan, William B. Davies, Nicholas Lea, Robert Patrick, Annabeth Gish, Mark Snow, Rob Bowman, Frank Spotnitz, Darin Morgan, Glen Morgan, James Wong, and everyone else involved in bringing the world The X-Files. To this day, it continues to inspire me in multiple ways, and I cannot wait to introduce the show to my own children once they’re old enough. I’m sure it will blow their minds too.


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