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Interview III

          It is hard to overstate the impact of Chris Carter’s work on the popular imagination.  Carter is the creator of The X-Files, which for eleven seasons (1993-2002; 2016, 2018) enthralled untold numbers of viewers with tales of fringe phenomena and military-industrial-extraterrestrial conspiracies.  He is credited with having written 75 episodes of the show (which likely understates his total involvement in scripting the series),  and he directed 15.  In addition, he wrote and directed the two X-Files moviesFight the Future (1998) and I Want to Believe (2008). 

          The X-Files’ very title has, like Groundhog Day’s, become universal shorthand for a concept (the government hiding the presence of alien life; a day repeating again and again). And like Groundhog Day (which also debuted in 1993), The X-Files owes its enduring popularity to the elegance with which it executes a central premise that is both catchy and profound. The X-Files never failed to be entertaining – suspenseful, scary, funny – but it was often more. The show explored questions about skepticism and faith;  it dealt deeply with our need to find mystery and wonder in the world, and our fear that we may only be wishing for the miracles in which we want to believe. 

          I grew up watching The X-Files on Sunday nights, with my older brother. When I return to the show today, I am absorbed and impressed by its hypnotic pacing and intricate plotting – but the series lives in my heart and imagination because I so vividly remember its stories playing out on my family’s upstairs TV.  Bridging my adult appreciation for the show’s craftsmanship and my childhood enchantment with its atmosphere is my emotional investment in the characters of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. They are the FBI agents (played, with consistent excellence, by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson) whose bond is at the core of the series. With their shared confidence in each other, Mulder and Scully can journey into darkness, without being swallowed up by it. They are two of the great heroes in modern storytelling.

          It was my honor to speak with Carter about – among other subjects – the inner lives of Mulder and Scully; the writing processes that generated X-Files episodes; the influence of testimony by alleged alien abductees on The X-Files; and Carter’s reasons for treasuring the Hollywood classics he does.

          Our conversation has been edited for length.—MS

          Max Scheinin: What do you think draws people to stories and images of the UFO? 

          Chris Carter: I think that everyone stares up at the night sky and thinks that we can’t be alone.  And gosh, these new Webb Telescope photos of literally billions of galaxies – they’re so beautiful.  And to think that we humans are the only life in existence in the universe is – for me, I can’t imagine how people think that.  Because there are so many opportunities out there, exoplanets, for example, for there to be life in the universe.  So I think people are interested in UFOs and unexplained phenomena for that reason, that they want to believe.

          MS: We want to believe, but there's also resistance to believing.  With the changes in how UFOs are covered in the news in recent years, why do you think so many mainstream scientists still won't entertain the possibility?

          CC: I think it’s the scientific method.  Because there has been no unassailable evidence of life beyond the planet, I think that it promotes resistance to the idea.  And I can see both sides of the argument.

          MS: When you were first writing and pitching The X-Files, what was the level of your interest in ufology?

          CC: I have to say it was limited then. I was curious, like everyone. I had read a document called the Roeper Survey, and it said that, scientifically, between nine and twelve percent of Americans, I think the number was, believed in the phenomenon. I thought that was really interesting, so that’s when I started to do my research into it, and the development of the show.

          MS: Would you be traveling, or meet people, or just observe things, that would trigger an episode?

          CC: Nothing that would trigger an episode. I think that most of those things were dreamed up either at work or in personal time. But I have to say that when I would speak to people who claimed to have been abducted or seen a UFO, it was always powerful to me, and helped me to write those abduction stories from a different place than I would have written them – than I could have written them – before I created the show.


          MS: How was it different?


          CC: I read so many abduction stories, and I talked to a number of people who claimed to have been abducted. I had no reason to doubt these people.  So when I was writing about the phenomenon, it wasn’t as a disbeliever – it was as a person who wanted to believe.


          MS: Do you think of Scully as an atheist?


          CC: Scully?


          MS: Yeah.


          CC: As an atheist?


          MS: Yeah.


          CC: No, she’s a believer – she wears that cross around her neck. That’s the contradiction in the character: she’s a scientist, yet she is a person of faith. 


          MS: There’s an episode that I think ends with her saying, “I’m scared to believe.”


          CC: Yeah – I think that was an honest answer. She’s been exposed to so much through Mulder that it shakes the foundations of her faith.


          MS: How did Mulder’s backstory with his sister originally occur to you, and why did you want to focus on the left-behind member of the family, rather than the abductee herself?


          CC: Well, it wouldn’t have been a mystery show if it was about the abductee.  I was interested of course in the abduction phenomenon, after I started to study up on it and I thought it would be interesting to have a character like Mulder,  who lost his sister in a mysterious way and it affected his life and the trajectory of his life.  It was the basis of his pursuit and the backstory that set the show moving forward.


          MS: Do you think that Mulder has a quality that would have made him an outsider even if he didn’t have the experience of Samantha’s abduction in his background?


          CC: Yeah – he’s smart, he’s funny, he’s acerbic and he’s a cynic.  And I think that comes right back to “I want to believe.” It’s not “I believe,” it’s “I want to believe.”  He is a doubter as much as he is a believer. 


          MS: The show,  to me,  seems to express a viewpoint about openness to the supernatural or paranormal relating to the experience of trauma and grief.  Do you agree with that,  and where do you think that theme comes from?


          CC: Gosh – it’s a good question. I’m not quite sure how to answer it. Trauma and grief are what Mulder experienced with the loss of his sister. And then the characters experience trauma and grief through the course of the show.  I think that it’s built into any dramatic concept that your characters have as much – as much as they are driven, they are driven by loss and drama and trauma in their lives.  And I think that we explored that to the tune of 218 episodes.

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Interview III:  The Storyteller

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