Christ, Hamlet and Ralph Nader: Symbolism and Sacrifice in The X Files

Written for the 2010 round of xf_is_love. I’m writing this much later than I’d have liked to, and it’s therefore shorter (and possibly less coherent) than I’d like it to be. There’s so much I could say about The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati. Religion, philosophy, reality, fiction, sacrifice and resurrection are just some of the themes covered in this episode, and if you take a look online (or at the bibliography) you’ll find just some of the articles out there covering these. I hope that you enjoy this essay though, that it gives you something to think about, and that I haven’t offended anyone with what I’ve written (that definitely isn’t my intention).

Chris Carter once said that he saw The X Files as a search for God: ‘it was a big part of the inspiration, but no one religion was the focus’ and certainly there are plenty of references to religions and spiritualities (of all kinds) over the nine season course of the show. From the obvious (Scully’s cross) to the esoteric (Feng Shui Life anyone?) both Western and Eastern philosophies and ways of life are used to encourage the characters, and the audience, to question what they see, to question what they are told, and to believe that the truth is out there.

Paul Peterson, in ‘Religion in The X Files’ says:

    The television series The X-Files has become prominent for its treatment of alien visitors, alien abductions, and vast government conspiracies. But in addition to those things, for which it is most famous, it has provided one of the deepest and most sophisticated treatments of religious phenomena ever found on network television.

While religion is by no means the predominant theme of The X Files, the battle between ‘good’ (Mulder and Scully) and ‘evil’ (CSM and the Syndicate) which forms the basis of the show draws clear parrallels to ideas of good and evil in many world religions. Revolving around good and evil, and being entrenched in Western culture with all of the connotations that brings, The X Files does draw heavily on Christianity and themes of faith, belief, redemption and sacrifice occur regularly. It is the latter I particularly wish to focus on in this essay.

Ask anyone about religion in The X Files and I’m sure Scully would spring to mind. It is established early on that Scully is a Christian: she wears a golden cross around her neck which her mother gave her at the age of fifteen; she was ‘raised Catholic and [has] a certain familiarity with scripture’; she believes that God can create miracles. Her journey throughout the course of The X Files could also be seen to mirror the journey of the Virgin Mary – the birth of Emily and William’s conception mirroring the immaculate conception:

    The birth of Emily reminds us of another Virgin Birth. “Christmas Carol” and “Emily” are a reminder of the birth, life and ministry of Jesus. The stories of Emily and Jesus are linked by the unique circumstances of their conceptions. They are also linked by Scully’s crucifix.

The crucifix is one of the, if not perhaps the most, important symbols of Catholicism and Christianity. Serving as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice and love for all men, the crucifix symbolises the redemption of mankind and its use in The X Files must be considered. We know that the cross was given to Scully by her mother as a reminder that God is with her always. The cross remains with Scully throughout the course of the show, with the exception of her abduction by Duane Barry – through her cancer, the death of Emily and Mulder’s illness, leaving us perhaps to wonder whether God was watching over her after all, and if he was how closely. The symbolism of the cross, is particularly important in relation to Scully’s abduction, covering the episodes Ascension, 3 and One Breath, which has been compared by Karen Wolf to the crucifixion story:

    Throughout “Duane Barry” (2×05) and “Ascension”, frequent alien-abductee Duane Barry is representative of humanity while Scully is the crucified Christ…Scully has been sacificed quite literally for the “sins of our fathers”, specifically Mulder’s father and his cohorts’ collusion with colonizing alien forces. In “Ascension”, [it] can be said that Scully has experienced a symbolic death as a sacrifice to save humanity from its sins.

The absence of the cross, which Mulder looks after for Scully until she is returned, can be viewed symbolically as Scully’s descent into hell, mirroring Jesus’ experiences between his death and his resurrection as told in the Gospel of Nicodemus.

But it is not just Scully whose journey through the course of The X Files draws parallels with Jesus. The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati is, to me, one of the more obvious episodes to use the themes of religion, symbolism and sacrifice to get closer to the truth. From the episode’s opening, with Mrs Mulder leaving her son lying in a hospital bed, crying out for her with a voice she can’t hear, the viewer is drawn into making a comparison with Mary, mother of Jesus, who weeps at the cross for the son who has to die. Mary, we might argue, is passing her son into the arms of his father – God – who will care for him and reward him with a seat at his right hand. Mrs Mulder, however, passes her son into the arms of somewhere much more sinister – Cigarette Soking Man; the man once referred to as the devil by Chris Carter.

With CSM’s arrival we are thrown into an altered reality, a dream sequence mirroring that of Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’. Much like Christ, Mulder is offered the chance to ‘come down from the cross’ and lead a normal life. AS Amy M. Donaldson says in her analysis ‘Last Temptation of Mulder’:

    CSM, echoing the words of the guardian angel that appears to Jesus while on the cross, tells Mulder that he has suffered enough; he is not the Christ… Mimicking the angel, CSM takes his hand and leads him away from the scene of his siffering. Thus begins Mulder’s greatest temptation.

There are quite clear parallels throughout the rest of the episode with the film: Mulder is led to paradise, lives the life of a normal man, and dies at an old age with Jerusalem crumbling arund him. It is apparent that Mulder, half-alien, half-human, is the key to humanity’s salvation – much like Christ – and like Christ he may have to pay the ultimate sacrifice:

    CIGARETTE SMOKING MAN: The fact remains, he’s become our savior. He’s immune to the coming viral apocalypse. He’s the hero here.PROJECT DOCTOR: He may not survive the procedure.CIGARETTE SMOKING MAN: Then he suffers a hero’s fate.

Sacrifice is a key theme in The X Files: Bill Mulder sacrificed his daughter for the sake of humanity; Mulder sacrificed Scully’s health, Deep Throat and a normal life for his work on the x files; Scully sacrificed her relationship with her brother and her sister’s life to support Mulder. In Amor Fati, those sacrifices are deemed minor, insignificant. Mulder cannot change the world – he is merely a small cog in a tiny machine.

    MULDER: I thought that you died for my quest.DEEP THROAT: Yes, along with Scully’s sister and the man you thought was your father and Duane Barry and even Scully’s mysterious illness and on and on and on. You can let go of all that guilt. I’m here to tell you that you’re not the hub of the universe, the cause of life and death. We– you and I– we’re… merely puppets in a master plan. No more, no less. You’ve suffered enough. Now you should enjoy your life.

Of course, the reality is very different. Mulder lives the life that could have been – the dream life where all of the things he has lost, have been sacrificed for the X Files’ cause, live just round the corner. While he is living the life that he could have had, the world is going to ruin:

    VERY OLD MULDER: Oh, Scully! I knew you’d come. They told me you were dead.SCULLY: And you believed them. Traitor.VERY OLD MULDER: What?SCULLY: Deserter. Coward.VERY OLD MULDER: Scully, don’t… I’m dying.SCULLY: You’re not supposed to die, Mulder – not here.VERY OLD MULDER: What do you mean?SCULLY: Not in a comfortable bed with the devil outside.VERY OLD MULDER: No, you don’t understand. He’s taking care of me.SCULLY: No, Mulder, he’s lulled you to sleep. He’s made you trade your true mission for creature comforts.VERY OLD MULDER: There was no mission. There were no aliens.SCULLY: No aliens. Have you looked outside, Mulder?

Scully, as ever, comes to Mulder’s rescue, bringing him back into the real world from his operating table crucifix. But Scully is only able to save Mulder because of the sacrifice that Fowley makes – risking her life to get Scully the pass key to the operating room where Mulder lies. Much like the role of decieving angel was perfect for CSM, Amy M. Donaldson argues that Fowley plays the seductive Mary Magdalene, ‘working closely with CSM to keep Mulder lulled to sleep’. It could be argued that Fowley is more akin to Judas, betraying Mulder with a kiss for thirty pieces of silver (though we are never told the reason behind Fowley’s alliance with CSM), but Donaldson argues that Scully is closer to the portrayal of Judas in ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’:

    In “The Sixth Exctinction II: Amor Fati”, Scully is Kazantzaki’s Judas, right down to the blue eyes and red hair. She is the loyal friend who speaks the truth at all costs, more concerned with Mulder’s quest than with his feelings. Like this Judas, Scully was sent by Mulder’s enemies…but she was caught up in his charisma and integrity to become his closest companion.

Scully, like Jesus’ follwers, is called to sacrifice a normal life – dates and family time – her sister, her ability to reproduce, for Mulder’s quest. Deep Throat sacrifices his life when he takes on the role of Mulder’s informant, and Fowley’s ‘eleventh hour martyrdom’ sees her also being murdered.

Chris Carter once commented upon the importance of Scully’s conflicting roles of scientist and believer:

    The most difficult thing to reconcile is science and religion and so we created a dilemma for her character that plays right into Mulder’s hands. So that cross she wears, which was there from the pilot episode, is all-important for a character who is torn between her rational character and her spiritual side. That is, I think, a very smart thing to do. The show is basically a religious show. It’s about the search for God. You know, ‘The truth is out there.’ That’s what it’s about.

The X Files is, ulimately, a show about faith, but it is a show about sacrifice. The symbolism of Scully’s cross, in both her role of scientist and believer and that of Christ’s sacrifice, illustrate the underlying themes of the show, as well as the sacrifices that its main characters have to make to find the truth and finally believe.

Blythe, Teresa (1999) ‘Finding Religious Truth in The X-Files ‘, Gravitas: A Journal of Religion and Theology, 1: 1
Delasara, Jan (2000) Poplit, Popcult and the X Files: A Critical Explanation, McFarland & Co Inc
Peterson, Paul C.(2002) ‘Religion in The X-Files’, Journal of Media and Religion, 1: 3
Kowalski, Dean (ed) (2007) The Philosophy of The X Files, The University Press of Kentucky
Lavery, David, Hague, Angela and Cartwright, Maria (1997) Deny All Knowledge: Reading the “X-files”, Faber and Faber
Yang, Sharon (ed) The X Files and Literature: Unravelling the Story, Unweaving the Lie to Find the Truth



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s