The penultimate image of the film is of a bridge. Why? Because a bridge is the perfect image of a promise. “Man is a bridge from ape to superman.” Malick’s film piously recuperates and re-authorizes Nietzsche’s modernist typology. Yet it would be a mistake to think of the typological promise of God’s coming-to-be in linear terms, as an event to occur in the relative future, in a future relative to our immediate present. Understood as the redemption of the desire and potentiality that history has refused, God cannot appear in history. The future that God occupies is absolute with respect to any given historical present. Malick’s film insists that we must imagine a suprahistorical plane hovering above that of history, and that it is on that plane that the promise of a redeemed humanity fulfills itself. This is indicated in the climactic moments of the film by the recurring sequences of surfacing. The submerged camera is always pointing, if not moving, up to the surface. Here Malick perhaps captures in an image one of William S. Burroughs’s metaphors: “We are like water creatures looking up at the land and air and wondering how we can survive in that alien medium. The water we live in is Time. That alien medium we glimpse beyond time is Space.” But for Burroughs, even if “Space” is beyond “Time,” it is nevertheless rooted in it. Time is not the fallen emanation of Space. The two realms are not separated by an impassible abyss. Together they compose the two sides of absolute immanence. To translate this into Fredric Jameson’s previously mentioned terms, the realm of freedom is forged in (and wrested out of) the heart of the realm of necessity and it is desire that is the operative principle in its construction.
July 26, 2011
The Tree of Life: 5