The Tree of Life: 2

So Malick’s film revises The Book of Job even as it piously recuperates it.  Part of the problem with the Biblical text is that it seems (at least in translation) to present God as the Creator of the cosmos.  This is evident in the passage that stands as the film’s epigraph: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?”  Here the character of God appears as the Creator, as the principle that existed before Creation and responsible for bringing it into being.  But it is precisely this that the evolutionary sequences call into question.  The epigraph is therefore something the film contests, and revises.

An Indian guru once recorded a commentary on Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra.  In it, he states that for Nietzsche, creation and evolution are at odds with one another.  “Creation means no evolution.”  Creation refers to a finished product, like a poem or a sculpture.  Once written, a poem no longer evolves (although its interpretations might).  The words remain forever in the order that they were set down.  Evolution thus precedes creation.  A creation is the product of evolution as an eternal process of creativity.  God is not the source of evolution, but the ultimate product of it.  God is the superior form of humanity, just as humanity is the superior form of primate.  Just as man is super-ape, so god is super-man.

We should put this differently, in typological terms.  The ape is the promise of the man.  Man is the promise of the super-man, the god.  Man would therefore be the fulfillment of the ape; god the fulfillment of man.  In traditional Christian theology, God, as Creator, imposes a typological structure onto the world from a standpoint outside it.  In Nietzsche’s philosophy, the concept of typology is secularized.  There is a contingent typological structuring of the world that is immanent to it. Typology, secularized, becomes an emergent property of a world without a Creator, of the world conceived as absolute immanence.

However, what drives this emergent typological organization, if it is not a designer external to the process? What internal principle is at work in the emergence of order?  According to the hidden proof-texts of the film, which are all essentially modernist, the answer to this question is desire.  Desire is the essence of reality and of the cosmos as evolutionary process.  Desire conceives of an object and goes about fabricating it.  The ultimate object that desire conceives and strives to fabricate is freedom, freedom from the constraints of necessity, the freedom to undo the losses of the past.


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