The Seventh Continent (1989)

Directed by Michael Haneke

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Everything is fragmented in The Seventh Continent.  Like Haneke’s Code Unknown (2000), the film is separated with cuts to black between every scene.  Some of these scenes are brief vignettes, and in those cuts to black we have no real sense of how much time has passed.

We know right off the bat that we’re not seeing the whole picture here.  This subjective style of framing and of shooting as a whole leaves so much to the imagination.  It’s not just that the story begins accelerating in such a way that it’s impossible to understand why the characters do what they do, but even when we see this middle-class family it’s rare that we see them clearly.

It’s a longtime into the film before we see the faces of the people we follow around.  They are a married couple and their young daughter.  Their story is told intermittently over the course of three years, with most of the narrative progress coming from a couple of letters narrated to the audience (one by wife, other by husband) that catch us up on what we missed in the last cut to black.

The first time we see them all together, it’s in this shot…

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…a conventional middle-class family with a conventional middle-class breakfast.  The last time they eat together…

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…it’s a similarly fragmented view, this time of a much more lavish meal, reminiscent of the ‘last supper.’

Those two photos best demonstrate the arc of the movie, and yet it completely ignores why they do what they do.  And we don’t know why they do what they do.  We can’t.

They are unhappy, and from the get go we know that something is simply off.  We observe their routine in close ups, showing items and locations we will return to throughout the film.  We see what’s around them, but we never really see them clearly.  The focus is on the space they inhabit, the world which ostensibly drove them to their tragic end, but we are never forced to understand why.

Okay, so I keep trying to beat around the bush, but to avoid spoiling what happens (though you may already have a sense of what I’m talking around), the family collectively makes a decision they cannot go back on.  They live in suburbia, and then they decide to leave forever.  The man tells his mother they’re moving to Australia, aka the “Seventh Continent.”  We have seen them in their routine, and then we see just how badly they want to break from that routine.

The film never really demonizes suburbia in the same way much of American Beauty does.  In that film we understand explicitly why Lester Burnham feels the way he does.  It’s shown with comical effect, and if I remember correctly he even narrates his thought process to us.  He’s a middle-aged man living an unhappy life in the suburbs.  He’s depressed.

The characters of The Seventh Continent and Lester Burnham might get along were they to meet in a support group.  They are of the same ilk, but Michael Haneke’s film never tells us how to feel or even what is going on.  We are kept at arm’s distance, and it’s an incredible distance.

This is the bleakest film I’ve seen in a long time, and I’ve seen Geostorm.  Maybe I should’ve started there.  The film is never particularly horrifying, but it’s so quiet and the characters so doomed.  When the film does commit to its ending, we feel like there was no other possible way it could have gone.

Certain moments linger (like when they flush a lot of money down the toilet), and these moments take as long as they do, seemingly just to let us gather our senses, like divers moving slowly towards the surface to get acclimated to the change in pressure.

Haneke knows this movie will challenge its audiences.  He makes us stare at things long enough until they start to feel normal.  Then the last twenty or so minutes of the movie accelerate in a way we might not be prepared for.  When we do catch up with the characters and understand just what they’re doing, it’s captivating and devastating.

The Seventh Continent is the most devastating boring movie I’ve ever seen.  There.  That’s the type of sentence I should begin with, right?


Alright so I’m going to spoil this movie.  I often spoil the movies I write about, but for some reason I’m trying really hard not to with this one because I think it will affect the way you watch the movie if you ever decide to.  So I’m spoiling this one below…

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The family kills themselves.  They’re like Hitler and Eva Braun in the bunker during their final days.  They poison themselves, with the daughter the first to go, then the wife and then the husband.  When his poison doesn’t kill him right away, he takes to injecting himself.  Then he dies.

What’s most haunting about this film is that we never see the pivot point, the moment when they decide this is what they’re going to do.  It just happens.  You could rewatch the film with the eyes of a hawk and never find that moment, because it’s not there.  It’s in one of those cuts to black, or maybe that decision was within them from the first time we see them onscreen.

All we know is that they’re unhappy, but even that we don’t realize right away.  The first course of action Haneke takes on is to fragment his characters so that we see them less as people and more as lab rats.  We know what they interact with, what they’re up against, but we never understand them.

We do see the ways the man complains about his boss and the way he acts so coldly to that man when we finally see them together onscreen.  We see the way the daughter lies to her teacher about becoming blind (for no apparent reason), and we see the way the mom silently cries in a long, cold scene set in a car wash.

We’re made to think either that this family has been sad for a long time OR that they’re just like us, and if it could happen to them, maybe it could to us?  I mean, that’s bleak, but that’s the vibe I got.

They live a perfectly mundane life, and the sadder they get, the more we see their surrounding environment as propagating that despair.  If their surrounding environment is not unlike ours, then it follows that we’re meant to see our own world as just as solemn.

The family’s death is based on a real story.  A family committed suicide with no apparent reason.  We know people are sad, that people kill themselves and that horrible things just kind of happen.  We don’t always no why, and sometimes it’s too much to know why.  It’s just not an option.

The Seventh Continent is about that not knowing.  We have to be okay with it, to know that somethings are beyond reason or at least our own reason.  There are things we cannot see or feel, but that doesn’t mean they stop happening.

Up Next: Columbus (2017), American Animals (2018), Eighth Grade (2018)

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