The Seventh Continent (German: Der siebente Kontinent) is a 1989 Austrian drama film directed by Michael Haneke. It is Haneke's debut feature film, reportedly inspired by a true story of an Austrian middle-class family that committed suicide. The film chronicles the last years of the European family, which consists of Georg, an engineer; his wife Anna, an optician; and their young daughter, Eva. They lead routine urban middle-class lives, with hopes of escaping to Australia to start a new life, but suddenly decide to destroy themselves without any apparent reason. The film was selected as the Austrian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 62nd Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee.
The film is divided into three parts. The first two, 1987 and 1988, each depict a day in the family's life, showing their daily activities in detail. It conveys their discomfort with the sterile routines of modern society. Toward the beginning of each part, there is a voice over of the wife reading a letter to the husband's parents informing them of his success at work. Many of the same activities are shown in both parts.
The third part, 1989, begins with the family departing from the grandparents' home after a visit. The husband then narrates a letter, written the next day, informing them he and his wife have quit their jobs and decided "to leave". It plays over clips of them quitting, closing their bank account, telling the clerk they are emigrating to Australia, selling their car, and buying a large variety of cutting tools. He then says it was a very hard decision whether or not to take Eva with them, but they decided to do so after she said she was not afraid of death.
The family then eats a luxurious meal, and goes about systematically destroying every possession in the house, but in an automatic and lifeless manner, with barely any speaking (as are almost all of their actions in the movie). They rip up all of their money and flush it down the toilet. The only emotion shown is when Georg shatters their large fish tank, and his daughter screams and cries hysterically. Finally, they commit suicide, first Eva, then Anna, and finally Georg. Just before he dies, Georg is shown methodically writing the names, date, and time of death of all three family members on the wall. There is an envelope addressed to Georg's parents taped to the door.
At the end of the film, there is text saying that, despite the suicide note, Georg's parents thought it may have been a homicide and a police investigation was conducted. No evidence of murder was found.
The film's title is a reference to Australia, the continent mentioned in the film as the family's destination. Its image is visualized as an isolated beach and desert, with a mountain range on the left border and pool of water with mysterious waves (which are clearly physically impossible) in between, accompanied by discreet sounds of waves in an ominous tone. Australia is symbolised as the ideal place to escape to for the doomed European family. It appears in the first two parts and as the last image in a series of flashbacks shown before death of Georg.
Michael Haneke said that the film is based on a news article he read about a family who committed suicide in this manner, police discovered that their money was flushed because they found little bits of currency in the pipe. He claimed to have correctly predicted to the producer that audiences would be upset with that scene, and remarked that in today's society the idea of destroying money is more taboo than parents killing their child and themselves.
The film was awarded Bronze Leopard at the Locarno International Film Festival and the prize for Best Application of Music and Sound in Film at the Ghent International Film Festival.