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.