Sunday, May 5, 2013

Picnic at Hanging Rock

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Picnic at Hanging Rock is a haunting, ornate and conversely simple question mark. It is a film of ethereal light that illuminates an unsolvable mystery of the inexplicable, and a confident manifest of tone and its effectiveness. ★★★★Australian director Peter Weir vivifies the story of a group of English, outback-transplanted boarding school girls who are allowed a day in the shadow of the towering outcrop Hanging Rock. Clothed in their Victorian-era, white lace dresses, the girls laze about in the woods, laughing and playing. But there is something mysterious about Hanging Rock. The wind calmly howls and the bright sun shines in the vibrantly blue sky--it is Hanging Rock's irresistible backlight that beckons the girls to explore the rock.

A droning score accompanies the girls ascension to the top. The higher they go, the more mesmerized they become by the mysterious, barren Hanging Rock. A force practically calls them, but we do not hear it. Three of the four girls are entranced under the blazing sun, removing their shoes and slowly, numbly disappearing between crags. The remaining girl descends rock. She hysterically screams, sun-kissed and winded and scarred by her hypnotized schoolmates--they should have stopped climbing.

When the class of girls returns to their boarding school, they are dispirited and heartbroken. Their teacher and mentor had also climbed the rock and disappeared. After one week, one girl reappears, remembering nothing. An abrasion to her head might have something to do with it, but she has no scratches or bruises on her hands or bare feet. She came back with no corset, but is "in tact."

In Picnic at Hanging Rock, it is not what happens, but what doesn't happen that makes it the effective atmosphere-of-a-movie that it is. We don't really know why the girls are so mesmerized by the rock, or what it is they see in the sky. We never see the professor disappear. When a young boy climbs the rock to find the girls, we don't see what he sees, we only know that he is scarred and speechless and has found one of the girls. Shots of the rock's peaks look like faces, an ominous series of vague eyes, mouths, and noses that insinuate a presence that may or may not be there. Weir's lighting is of heavenly proportions. A beautiful portraiture of Renaissance lighting--compositions that mimic an awakening innocence, a Victorian reluctance to mention sex and maturation, though the characters are seething sexual tension and oppression--an added layer to the dark yet naive mystery that pervades the film.

If ever there were a film to so skillfully portray an aura, an ambiance, it would be Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock, a beacon for all film makers who seek to aptly create a mood. Here it is eerie and captivating. It is, simply, an experience; an experience that reveals little about an end game and uncovers an unconventional hunger for an elevated film experience.

About the Author

Ian Tilman Nichols

Author & Editor

Has laoreet percipitur ad. Vide interesset in mei, no his legimus verterem. Et nostrum imperdiet appellantur usu, mnesarchum referrentur id vim.


  1. Excellent post, makes me want to watch it again.

  2. I just watched this on the plane and it was haunting..It reminded me of Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Sucides for some odd reason. Frankly I would rewatch to catch the symbolism :)



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