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Space.com: The X-Files and the Mythos of Space

The X-Files and the Mythos of Space
Paul F. McDonald

Original source

Humans are creatures of paradox: we walk in one world, longing for others made inaccessible by the vast distances of space. With the awareness that we are confined to earth comes the consciousness that the sky is out of reach.

Some scholars call “above” and “below” the most important and universal of all duality symbols. Renowned symbolist Hans Biedermann calls them “vertical paradoxes.”

Above is usually seen as the realm of the spirit, whereas below is associated with the material world. As the source of light, including the sun, moon and stars, the heavens are easily identified with the “higher powers” that fill our myths and religions.

It’s a classic setup, and The X-Files are the most recent myth to make use of it. Fox Mulder looks to the stars for answers, while Dana Scully has her feet planted firmly on the ground.

The contradiction that human beings have long felt is made manifest in the two special agents. They could stand in for Aristotle and Plato in Raphael’s painting “School of Athens”, one pointing at the earth while the other points skyward.

Searching for higher powers

An archetypal image of The X-Files is Agent Mulder standing atop a hill, staring at the infinity of space, longing for a sign of life.

As religion has taken a backseat to science in the modern world, the search for “higher powers” in the universe now comes in the form of space probes and extraterrestrials. Nebulas and supernovas have displaced warring deities and angelic forces, but mankind’s longings are still juxtaposed against the backdrop of the heavens.

Contemporary pilgrims such as Mulder and Scully do not seek out celestial gods who manipulate the mortal landscape. Instead, they look for UFOs, alien abductions, and the occasional government/galactic conspiracy.

Mulder is a haunted prophet, whose destiny and purpose is irrevocably linked with the vast expanses of space. Scully is the doubting Thomas, perpetually looking at earthly matters through a microscope. The images have changed, but the source remains the same.

Elusive realities

The X-Files mantra is of course “The Truth is Out There.” This declaration and promise form the central core of Mulder’s beliefs.

The truth must be “out there” in his universe, for it isn’t to be found anywhere on his earth.

Though his efforts often appear futile, Mulder passionately makes his way toward the elusive realities of the paranormal and the extraterrestrial. Perched somewhere between deception and half-truths, he walks in a world where trust is the rarest commodity and families exist only in betrayal.

Wrapped in black overcoats, he and his partner brandish flashlights as beacons of light in a dark and hostile universe. The need for illumination drives both of them one week after another.

Mulder projects all his most intense fears and desires onto the rest of the cosmos. In one episode’s opening monologue, he notes how we all “turn our eyes skyward, ready to accept the truly incredible.” That so many have responded to the show suggests that desperation in his voice echoes their own.

Symbols of order in an ambiguous universe

The X-Files universe is defined by polarities ranging from the individual to the systematic, from Mulder’s wide-eyed wonder to Scully’s refined skepticism. But it is also about reconciling such things.

This is never easy – it’s frequently paradoxical, like the disembodied intimacy of Mulder and Scully’s constant cell phone conversations. Yet it is the driving force of the show.

Mulder is as obsessed with repairing his broken family as he is with bringing together the cosmic disparity of earth and sky. Sometimes the two quests mirror one another – his search for his abducted sister finally ended with a vision of her spirit and other dead children living in a mystical dimension called StarLight.

It doesn’t dissuade Mulder that the forces “out there” aren’t always benign.

Their presence assures him that we aren’t alone, and that seems to be enough.

“I suppose just looking up into the night sky at all those millions of stars up there, you wonder if it’s possible,” X-Files creator Chris Carter once mused during an interview. “Encountering a UFO would be like witnessing a miracle.”

Even in an age of science, the miracles still come from above. Watch the skies.

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