23 November 2009

Such uplifting posts

This evening we watched Anatomy of Hell, which even by my standards goes a bit beyond an accessible feminist text. I like a bit of entertainment with my films, but apart from some fairly grotesque scenes depicting menstrual blood and farm implements going where no farm implement should ever go, mostly the characters were compliant puppets mindlessly spouting Catherine Breillat’s extreme views.

What I really want to write about is a clip I saw of The Seventh Continent, which is the first film I watched of Michael Haneke’s after stumbling into Funny Games U.S. at the London Film Festival a few years back. The story, in brief, is about a family who plan to commit suicide, without any real consent from their young daughter, and then go about methodically destroying everything they own before committing the act with (nearly) the same conviction.

It’s as disturbing as it sounds, but Haneke based it on an actual news article he read about a German family who committed suicide after destroying all their possessions. I’m not sure if there was much more to the real story, but Haneke does a good job in envisioning the psychological landscape of these individuals, though he offers no easy answers as to why they are so determined to end their lives.

One of the clips we watched last evening was of the family getting their car washed. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it encapsulates everything that the film is about.

The mother and father sit inert in the front of the vehicle while the child sits behind them, observing their speechless interactions. They inch along through the mechanics of the car wash, their vehicle buffeted by the noisy brushes, their view of the outside world obscured by suds and water.

As they near the end, the wife begins to cry uncontrollably, muffling her sobs with her fist. She reaches behind her and her daughter takes her hand, the husband looking over at her with a mixture of pity and confusion. The mother lets go of the child’s hand as the father tries to console her, to no avail. The heating bar begins to dry the car and they slowly emerge from the garage. The daughter stares mutely ahead, drawing her hands deeper into her lap and clasping them there.

The car wash describes the agonising, relentless forward motion of their lives, which the family (or at least the couple) suffers without motivation or agency. They are insular - at once protected from the senselessness of the world around them and detached from any comfort or joy they could possibly derive therein.

To the wife, the wash represents their inalterable, terrible decision; there is no other way to escape the unacceptable condition of their lives (be it depression or something less accessible, more existential), though this does not prevent her from feeling compassion for herself and her family, and fearing the uncertainty of what they face in committing this act.

Of course, in Haneke’s films, children are the most vulnerable of any character, and in choosing death, the little girl’s parents have in a sense already abandoned her. She tries to offer comfort, to parent her irrational, emotionally indulgent mother, but even this small effort is rejected, and she withdraws again, left with no one to console but herself.

These kinds of scenes play out again and again, though I’d need to watch it over to draw parallels. Short of writing an essay, I didn’t really know where to put this initial revelation, and then remembered that I needed another post for NaBloPoMo, so here it went. Um, enjoy?


Make!Do! said...

Glad someone else likes Michael Haneke and jealous you saw him - though he does sound as icy and removed as his movies...

Friday said...

Funny you should say that: Haneke says that perception has tormented him ever since he made the mistake of refering to contemporary society as a 'frozen wasteland.' He's actually quite a funny guy, and there is tenderness in his films, though the subject matter is obviously devastating. It's taken me a long time to see the difference though.

Anonymous said...

This is quite brilliant you know. If you did a Masters in film you should do your dissertation on Haneke.