The Seventh Continent (Michael Haneke) and the Freudian Death Drive – Part 2

Part 1.

The Seventh Continent.

Unlike Freud’s vision of how the Death Drive manifests, Haneke uses the idea as an attack on a number of his usual tropes.  Aspects of modern life such as the dreary drag of the 9 to 5 to the middle class obsession with materialism and ownership/possession all come under fire and blame for the Death Drive take over.  The Seventh Continent is about a family unit whose veneer of acceptability is masking a darker plan to escape their middle class unhappiness.

The film is careful not to provide the family too much of an identity, this in itself adding to the notion that the Death Drive is all-encompassing and unbias as to who it will ultimately take over; their anonymity for a large part of the film is a direct reference to the underlying drive inherent in all of the middle class and all those who do not strive for the fundamentals of human life.  Instead, this is a middle class family who appear to have everything: successful jobs, the ideal set of possessions and a single child.

Haneke attacks the basics of middle-class life in other films later on (including his following two films in the Glaciation Trilogy, Benny’s Video and 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance) but here it seems a very basic attack that is more of a consequence of the Death Drive than any Pasolini style satires or attacks.  Indeed, though the Death Drive is largely portrayed to take over because of the comfortable but empty lifestyle they lead, it also seems to be something that is born from the inner beings of the characters; this family’s tragic end, like Freud initially argued, was always to be.

The film follows this family as they appear to get ready for a big move.  The image of Australia appears several times, convincing the viewer  and the people around the family that their destination is indeed a warmer climate.  Haneke deliberately contrasts this change in temperature; the film seeming to be ice cold while the potential of the move appearing to be warm.  All is not as it seems and the identity of the family is only gradually revealed as their intentions become more obvious.

The slow process of the destruction of all of their possessions takes up the majority of the film, the action shown to be a necessary step in their collective suicide.  While there could be an anti-materialist reading to this, especially when money is ripped up and flushed down a toilet, the visual action of it implies more of a release than a protest.  These possessions are a barrier. They are the final hurdle between the family and their succumbing to the Death Drive.  It is only when a fish tank is smashed and the fish are left to die that the little girl becomes aware of the consequences of death.

Considering why this trilogy of the films is referred to as Glaciation, shines further light onto The Seventh Continent.  While the Death Drive is running havoc within the family unit, the process is shown to be slow, destructive and ultimately unstoppable.  It even implies that this is a natural process, further adding weight to Freud’s original arguments. The same can be said for Benny in Benny’s Video and the young games designer in 71 Fragments.  Their breakdown is slow, gradual but also never ending and unstoppable.  Even if we witness Benny’s video-induced psychosis relatively quickly in comparison to the family’s, there’s no doubt that his process was one of slow deterioration before the film starts.


Freud’s Death Drive may have obvious implications but Michael Haneke was never a director that went for the easy option. The gradual process of self-destruction could easily have been slick and gratuitous but would have missed the point entirely.  By making it a slow and agonising process, Haneke contrasts the ease of accessibility of the Death Drive to the hard work that following it through to the end can be.

Even the film’s soundtrack hides hints of the ideal. The film rarely bothers with music but in one particular instance, uses Berg’s Violin Concerto.  Berg is a composer with explicit links to the Death Drive and its use in a scene in the car park really adds the final nod to Freud’s ideas.  Death is a slow, grinding process; unstoppable, relentless and cold.  The Seventh Continent makes full, harrowing use of all of these factors and shows just how wrong the mental drive can go when surrounded by the suffocating, western comfort that cushions so many of us in our everyday lives.

Adam Scovell

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