Tree of Life: 9

Just as the film’s theology, its account of the divine, derives from such high modernist “process” thinkers as Whitehead and Benjamin, so its anthropology, its account of the human, draws from high modernism’s unholy trinity of Marx, Nietzsche and Freud.

The film’s Waco sequence depicts young Jack moving through a very well defined, textbook case of a “successful” Oedipus Complex.  The corny whispered line “Mother Father always the two of you wrestling in me…” not only suggests in complete deadpan (I really want Malick to be quietly guffawing here) that at the core of Jack’s horrified unconscious lies the primal scene (whether witnessed or fantasized) of Mommy and Daddy “wrestling” (aka bumping uglies).  It also expresses the difference between contradictory libidinal ties that the good young Freudian child is said to suffer: the erotic tie to Mommy and the tie of identification to Daddy. The erotic tie to Mommy is fairly simple.  The tie of identification to Daddy is inherently incoherent, since it involves both love (Daddy as provider and protector) and hate (Daddy as pure castrating power).  The apex of the Oedipus Complex occurs of course in that scene where young Jack has begun to go to seed, and he yells at his bewildered looking father something like “She only loves me!”  Is young Jack speaking for himself or is speaking as his father?  Is he expressing his own lust for Mommy or is he protesting through imitation Daddy’s obstructing hold over Mommy?  It seems undecidable.  Identification arouses ambivalence precisely because the boundary between self and other is uncertain.  Jacques Lacan would call this kind of identification imaginary: and for Lacan imaginary identification is the source of aggressivity.

For Freud, the successful resolution of this contradiction between libidinal ties is the desexualization of the erotic tie to the Mother and an intensification of the tie of identification with the Father.  And so Jack signals that he has passed through the Complex when at the end of the Waco sequence he confides in his father that he is more like him than his mother.

Later, we hear older Jack apologize to his father on the phone about saying something nasty around the time R.L. died.  For the psychodynamic therapist, the subject never permanently succeeds passing through the Oedipus Complex.  It can always be re-activated at any particular moment, no matter what the subject’s age.  So it appears that older Jack had to repeat the process: the phoned-in apology being the renewal of the tie of identification.  Way to succeed again, Jack!


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

%d bloggers like this: