The Seventh Continent is acclaimed Austrian director Michael Haneke’s first film. It shows three years in the life of a family comprised of a mother, father, and daughter. The film follows them through their mundane daily happenings: going to school and work, writing letters, eating dinner, shopping, driving. They are viewed through long often dialogue-free scenes that help elucidate how middle-class modern life can set the basis for depression, boredom, and hopelessness.
The film opens with an incredibly long shot of the family moving through a car wash, sitting together silently and expressionless. This scene sets the basis for what the film will be doing. It shows the average middle-class family performing one of the many mundane events of everyday life. The scenes that follow expound on this thought – shopping for groceries, working at a repetitive job, eating dinner, saying a prayer before bed. This tapestry puts the viewer in the mindset of the individual characters. The scenes are expertly shot which helps keep the interest high, but their length and lack of action and emotion make it nearly impossible for the mind to not momentarily wander. Haneke is purposefully testing our patience – he wants our minds to wander and question the inclusion of these seemingly pointless takes, but it isn’t until later that we begin to see his intent.
He is making us feel how they feel. They too are wondering what the purpose of these long visits to the store are, or keeping their car clean when they will inevitably come back to once again sit through the wash. It’s showing the father work towards a higher position in his company only to end up spending the money on the same things – groceries, car maintenance, tools. They seem to have goals in life, but even when they are achieved there is no apparent change. The characters are simply moving through time in the only way they know how. Their middle-class life has led them to a relentless, never-ending cycle of work and sleep.
This eventually leads to their breakdown and suicide. The suicide itself is treated respectfully but is nonetheless horrifying to watch. The destruction of everything they own is their abandonment of what they have attained in their meaningless lives. There seems to be something else they are trying to say with it – it could be they are calling out for help, or expressing their worldview to whoever finds them, or even buying time by doing something different than they’ve done over the last many years. The first moments of grief are shown when the daughter cries over her fish and when the mother cries over her daughter’s body. There is still some life and emotion left in them all, but it takes an event truly unique and petrifying to bring it out.
The Seventh Continent is a brilliantly shot movie that allows the actors to express themselves in ways not often seen in the film. The takes of complete silence still say so much because of the emotions portrayed on their faces. It is also a highly valid critique on modern life and our seeming lack of interest in mental healthcare. Haneke is not criticizing the family so much as he is criticizing society for leading them to this act. He is breaking down the middle-class capitalist world view, and showing the only possibility of its end if it continues.
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