According to Freud’s account of the Oedipus Complex, little Jack’s libidinal tie to his Mommy is sexual; it has sex as its aim, however indefinitely “sex” is conceived in Jack’s pre-genitalized mind. (In the film, the boy sneaks a guilty looking peek at his mother in her negligee…which takes place during the father’s extended absence.) But the reality principle finally gets through to him that his wish is impossible, and then the tie is qualitatively transformed. The sexual aim is inhibited. Esteem replaces lust. The child begrudgingly advances into novelty, the firm hand of historical necessity on his shoulder.
Identification is likewise a libidinal tie. But it is erotic in a social rather than a sexual sense. (Freud’s notion of Eros was always twofold.) So sex is not the aim in a process of identification; no “desexualizing” reality check is therefore necessary. In a positive sense, the aim of identification is solidarity. But as previously indicated, there is a negative sense to the unconscious process as well, which can be qualified as allelophagic or cannibalistic. Dwelling on identification, we see that the unconscious cares nothing for contradiction, for willing contradictory things simultaneously. Entwined with the desire for solidarity with the other (to create a larger unity out of the multiple) is a desire to gobble the other up (to reduce the multiple to a smaller unity). Ultimately Freud would come to see the ambivalence of identification as proof that the death drive was inextricably interlaced with the social Eros. (Melanie Klein would then go on to clarify how the death drive permeated the sexual desire for the mother too).
The child’s allelophagia stems in part from the father’s superior physical, mental and social powers. In the presence of someone grown, someone growing is thrown back upon her own uncoordination, ignorance and helplessness. The child identifies the parent as an image of its own future mastery, but this only makes it feel its present impotence all the more intensely. And as you can probably attest, a common reaction to the feeling of impotence is resentment.
The object of resentment is always someone or some group that–whether intentionally or not, whether directly or not–exposes the resenting subject to its feeling of impotence, to its self-recognition as impotent, to its consignment to the realm of necessity. Conversely, the object of resentment comes to represent a form of that other realm, the realm from which the subject is excluded, the realm of freedom. Hence the concept of resentment is inherently relational. That is, it automatically evokes the notion of classes. And so we advance to the further modernist proof-texts that Malick’s film recuperates, those of Nietzsche and Marx.