Saturday, 31 December 2011

Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975)

Fig. 1
Peter Weir's Picnic At Hanging Rock is haunting and evocative mystery. The slow pace scenes brings the audience into a dream like stance through the film. The film, believed by many to be based on a true story, is an adaptation of a Joan Lindsey novel. The plot follows a group of school girls on Valentines Day, 1900, who take a trip to Hanging Rock. In result of this trip several of the girls and their teacher disappear, only one is found with no recollection of what happened. The fact that no bodies were discovered, nor a reasonable explanation why they went missing leaves the audience unsatisfied. The unresolved ending was used purposely for suspense and bring an uncanny feel to the film, the idea that it's a moment frozen in time.
Fig. 2
A prominent scene within the film is the section before the girls disappear, all dressed in full Victorian dress attire, in pure white, the girls remove their shoes, walking bare foot around Hanging Rock. Their 'day dream' state of mind intrigues and confuses the audience. The fact the girls are originally portrayed as pristine, wearing thick, white dresses in the hot Australian heat, contrasts with the out of character removal of shoes. This gets the audience questioning the girls state of mind and confused about what is happening. Film4 observes, "He outdoes himself here, mixing the heady eroticism of repressed Victorian adolescent femininity with a barely suppressed terror that infects the school and the local community. Beautiful photography of the Outback adds the same brooding mysticism that made Roeg's Walkabout such a haunting experience." (Film4 2010) Film4 expresses the theme of suppressed female sexuality and discusses the way that Weir portrays it on screen. The film has a mystical, dream like feel and with the out of character disappearance brings the film into an uncanny resolution.

The cinematography is stunning, something beautiful yet eerie about it. The scene with the girls sitting at the bottom of Hanging Rock is like poetry in slow motion. Ian Nathan states, "A haunting and compelling oddity from Australian master Peter Weir, that doesn’t fit easy categorisation; it is part mystery, part horror, an impressionist poem to lost innocence. Although since considered based on a true story, it is, in fact, merely an adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s novel, but Russell Boyd’s cinematography is so sumptuous and captivating it is little wonder watchers felt like they were stepping into some peculiar reality." (Nathan 2010) Nathan praises Weir's adaptation and the idea suggested about it being an impressionist poem rings true. The scenes almost don't make sense, giving the film a dream like feel. The colour tint of the frame gives everything a vintage feel.
Fig. 3
The films slow pace scenes enchants the audience, either driving them to hysterical boredom or engaging wonderment. Roger Ebert suggests, "In a sense, the viewer is like the girls who went along on the picnic and returned safely: For us, as for them, the characters who disappeared remain always frozen in time, walking out of view, never to be seen again." (Ebert 1998) Ebert explains beautifully the experience the audience receives from the film and makes prominent one of the uncanny themes of the film, the idea of endless time or frozen in time.

List of illustrations
Figure 1. Weir, Peter (1975) Picnic At Hanging Rock Original Movie Poster. At: (Accessed on:7/12/11)

Figure 2. Weir, Peter (1975) The school girls at Hanging Rock. At: (Accessed on:7/12/11)

Figure 3. Weir, Peter (1975) Strange behavouir at Hanging Rock. At: (Accessed on:7/12/11)

Film4 (2010) Picnic At Hanging Rock. At: (Accessed on:7/12/11)

Empire Magazine Ian Nathan (2010) Picnic At Hanging Rock. At: (Accessed on:7/12/11)

Roger Ebert (1998) Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975). At: (Accessed on:7/12/11)


  1. Great, measured review, Lydia - this captures perfectly the ability of a good review to admit both experiences of a film (enchantment/boredom), but doing so constructively and in the service of an argument - some great quotes in here too! :)