Picnic at Hanging Rock

A part of this view­ing list: Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Spine #29: Peter Weir’s Pic­nic at Hang­ing Rock.


Despite the fact that Ghe­o­rghe Zam­fir smears his pan­flute are all over the the score for this film, it isn’t a bad movie. It seems to be Weir’s Aus­tralian inter­pre­ta­tion of the Lady of the Wood mythos, with lib­er­al dos­es of var­i­ous oth­er fairy tales, most notice­ably a swan-princess motif that is per­fect­ly sat­u­rat­ed through­out. I wish oth­er films were so restrained in its use, it was a per­fect accent. The film is also an autop­sy of the Vic­to­ri­an-era, not nec­es­sar­i­ly a cri­tique of it, but a chance to explore repres­sion in a time where repres­sion was con­sid­ered a good thing. The first por­tion of the film is extreme­ly, inno­cent­ly sen­su­al; such a good approx­i­ma­tion of the Vic­to­ri­an era that some of its com­mon­place items would seem shock­ing in our more cyn­i­cal time, such as the ease and aban­don of love and long­ing looks that the school­girls give to each oth­er. Before their repres­sion becomes com­plete.


The flip side of the coin comes from the adults; con­stant­ly wor­ry­ing about the intact­ness of hymens and the pres­ence of corsets and pants, and whether or not to men­tion such things to the cops inves­ti­gat­ing the dis­ap­pear­ance of a few school­girls [the swan-princess being one of them]. There is also a bit of class-cri­tique going on, one of the girls at the App­le­yard Col­lege is from an orphan­age, she’s lost her broth­er, who hap­pens to be work­ing for some gen­try not too far away. They don’t know about each oth­er and nev­er meet, but the dif­fer­ences and def­er­ences they show when they are com­fort­able opposed to when they are in the pres­ence of author­i­ty offer star­tling insights. Sara, for instance, bare­ly talks at the school because she has such a low-class accent.


The dis­ap­pear­ance of the girls, the recov­ery of one of them, the mys­tery enhanced by the Zam­firoc­i­ty of the pan­flute cre­ate an out­let for the repressed desires of every char­ac­ter in the film. It is almost as if the vir­gins were assumed into heav­en. I wouldn’t even hes­i­tate to call this a sci­ence-fic­tion film, for it is appar­ent that there is some preter­nat­ur­al force at Hang­ing Rock that affects the mind. Although there is no answer to the mys­tery of the girls’ dis­ap­pear­ance, the gap they leave in the lives of com­plete strangers and the yearn­ing instilled in every heart hints at the actu­al mean­ing that Weir aimed for. Inno­cence is always lost.