21 things about Michael Haneke’s The Seventh Continent

the seventh continent

Even though I don’t think it’s possible to “spoil” this film, I should mention that this post has spoilers.

  1. The Seventh Continent is a movie about a mother, a father, and a daughter – a bourgeois family – who commit suicide.
  2. It’s Michael Haneke’s first film.
  3. His stylistic influences stand out, most notably those of Robert Bresson and Michelangelo Antonioni.
  4. Though he also uses his signature across-the-street shot that he brings back in Caché and Code Unknown.
  5. Haneke is the master of alienation.
  6. For the first 10 minutes of the movie, we don’t see the main character’s faces, only their routine: wake up, brush teeth, make coffee, eat breakfast, put on shoes, go to work, etc.
  7. We see their faces the few times routine is broken: Georg gets promoted, Evi lies about going blind, one of Anna’s patients tells a funny story, the family has Anna’s brother over for dinner,  etc.
  8. But for the most part, the family is anonymous. They could be any white, middle class, European family.
  9. During their routines, especially buying things (groceries, gas, etc), they are alienated from themselves. Their participation in these social rituals literally effaces them.
  10. At the 1998 Ghent film festival, The Seventh Continent won the award for “best use of music in film.”
  11. There are two songs on the soundtrack: “Send Me Roses” by Mo and “The Power of Love” by Jennifer Rush
  12. Both the songs are diagetic, but they feel like intrusions into the scene.
  13. “Send Me Roses” plays on the stereo during the dinner with Anna’s brother. The upbeat, happy chords clash with the pace of the dinner. The juxtaposition on its own would be funny, but in the context of the film it made me feel uncomfortable. The music was too loud and inappropriate. At one point Georg asks Anna’s brother if the music is too loud. He says no. When Georg finally turns it down it’s a relief.
  14. “The Power of Love” plays on the TV the night the family kills themselves. Evi and Georg are watching Jennifer Rush perform it live when Anna comes in with pills crushed in water for Evi. The emotions expressed in the song seem so insincere compared to what the family is doing: “We’re heading for something / Somewhere I’ve never been, sometimes I am frightened / But I’m ready to learn ’bout the power of love.”
  15. The most disturbing aspect of the film isn’t the family’s suicide, it’s the way in which they do it.
  16. Their suicide is a routine in the same way their lives were: we see Georg buying power tools in the same way we saw Anna buy groceries, faces cut off. When the family destroys all their belongings, the meticulous and methodical way they do so is identical to the socially expected rituals they performed.
    Their suicide and destruction of their life may be in opposition to the content of their previous social rituals, but they have preserved the principle of the necessity of ritual. They haven’t escaped the banal repetitions of modern capitalism.
  17. Or we could read it another way: the family uses the tools of their society against itself. They show that suicide doesn’t necessarily take the form of a huge break from their social world, but rather the process of suicide can be incorporated into it. Their society is formally structured in such a way that this suicide doesn’t appear as a contradiction but as something congruous to their society. Their suicide becomes a social critique.
  18. In the opening sequence, after the family’s car exits the carwash, we see a poster advertising a vacation in Australia. The image of an Australian coastline. But the image doesn’t look like Australia, but like a landscape of an alien planet that would appear on the cover of a science fiction book. The image appears throughout the film.
  19. When asked, the family tells others that they’re moving to Australia; the seventh continent.
  20. I wanted to sympathise with this family, but Haneke keeps us so distantiated from them that it’s almost impossible.
  21. We never really know who these people are because they are hardly anybody.
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