The Seventh Continent ★★★★

I originally downloaded this as part of "Michael Haneke" week of the 2017 Film School Dropouts challenge, but didn't get around to watching it until this month. So after watching The Piano Teacher for this challenge and really hating it, then watching Caché and really loving it, I thought next for Haneke Week that I would go all the way back to the start of his career, with his 1989 no-budget The Seventh Continent. Many reviewers have classified this as a head-scratching experimental film, and while that's partially true (in that the visual formalism of its shots are deliberately unlike most films you see), the story itself is actually quite simple and straightforward -- it's a very pure, very practical examination of the philosophy known as Nihilism, as first defined by people like Friedrich Nietzsche and later refined by people like Haneke's contemporary peer, horror author Thomas Ligotti, a philosophy that Haneke is obsessed enough with that he has continued revisiting the theme over and over in his career, especially in his most famous and notorious films like Piano, Funny Games and Time of the Wolf.

People express a lot of confusion over The Seventh Continent's plotline, but it actually couldn't be more simple once you've read some Nietzsche and Ligotti. A young German couple with a child find themselves more and more disgusted by the bland numbing pleasantries of their cushy middle-class consumerist life, one designed expressly by society to use pretty objects as a way of arbitrarily assigning meaning to an existence that inherently doesn't have one; so they tell their friends and family that they're selling off all their things in order to move to Australia for a new job opportunity (hence the movie's title), when in fact they're secretly making plans for destroying all their belongings, literally flushing their money down the toilet, then unceremoniously killing themselves, but not before first murdering their daughter.

This is essentially nihilism in its simplest form; the acknowledgement that the universe is inherently chaotic, that human lives are inherently meaningless, that in the cosmic sense our individual existences come and go in the blink of an eye, which means that we can act as good as we want or as bad as we want and neither will have even the tiniest, slightest impact on the universe as a whole. And so that makes it hilarious every time a reviewer says, "I didn't understand this movie!;" for the nihilist would reply, "Of course you didn't understand it, you human sheep, because that's the entire point. You're so busy believing in all the little lies society tells you about what makes life meaningful -- love, family, religion, civilization, knowledge, mindfulness, ethics, possessions, health -- that you're incapable of seeing that all of these things are pointless diversions, artificially invented by the advanced part of the human brain to keep us preoccupied from our actual natural behavior, constant 24/7 violence and cruelty when we embrace our animal, lizard-brain true selves." By not understanding The Seventh Continent, a person is actually proving the point Haneke was getting at by making The Seventh Continent; that the only thing saving us from ourselves is our own deliberate ignorance, and the little lies we tell ourselves daily about how life has "meaning" and that it's our life's goal to find that "meaning," but that for those who are smart enough to finally get "woke" about the true nature of the gaping black maw at the center of the universe, the only rational response is self-destruction.

Watching The Seventh Continent makes me realize why I got so angry watching The Piano Teacher, Time of the Wolf and Funny Games, because they're just so utterly unnecessary; he's telling the same exact story in those that he does in The Seventh Continent, only with those filled with flashy, distracting bells and whistles (murderous teens! Violent sex! Post-apocalyptic cannibalism!), details you get so hung up on that you end up missing the bigger message Haneke was trying to tell. There's no such problem with The Seventh Continent, which takes this message and distills it down into its simplest, barest form. May you too one day watch it and finally get woke to the black gaping maw at the center of the universe.

UPDATE: For what it's worth, despite how it sounds, I am not a Nihilist myself, but rather an Absurdist, as best defined by Albert Camus. Absurdists believe in the same facts as Nihilists, but do so with a shrug and a smile, instead of a pointed finger while glowering; that the universe is inherently chaotic, that human life has no intrinsic meaning, but hey, we're here on the planet anyway despite all this, so we might as well be nice to each other and have as much fun as we can, because at least it makes the time pass more pleasantly. If The Seventh Continent is the ur-example of Nihilism in real-world practice, then Martha Coolidge's 1985 Real Genius is the perfect example of Absurdism being practiced in the real world.

P.S. It's criminal that there are so few reviews here of Real Genius. I know now what movie I'll be watching and writing up next!

Jason Pettus liked these reviews

All