RopeofSilicon Movie Club: 'Picnic at Hanging Rock' (1979)

Anne-Louise Lambert, Jane Vallis and Karen Robson in Picnic at Hanging Rock
Anne-Louise Lambert, Jane Vallis and Karen Robson in Picnic at Hanging Rock
Photo: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

Welcome to the first "meeting" of the RopeofSilicon Movie Club. The film being discussed is Peter Weir's eerie 1979 feature Picnic at Hanging Rock, a film easily described as a mystery and often referred to as a horror. I had hoped to keep my own thoughts to a reasonable length, but the film got the better of me.

Feel free to read my thoughts or simply delve into the conversation in the comments below. This is a free for all discussion were thoughts and opinions are allowed to run free... Please do so...

Picnic at Hanging Rock is an adaptation of Joan Lindsay's 1967 novel of the same name and is easily summarized, but not explained, by the film's opening text:

On Saturday 14th February 1900 a party of schoolgirls from Appleyard College picnicked at Hanging Rock near Mt. Macedon in the state of Victoria. During the afternoon several members of the party disappeared without a trace...

The mystery, as it were, begins immediately, and not with the disappearance of the girls, but with the day and date. February 14, 1900 was not a Saturday, but a Wednesday, and whether or not it's important is up to you to decide. Lindsay in introducing the novel wrote:

Whether "Picnic at Hanging Rock" is fact or fiction, my readers must decide for themselves. As the fateful picnic took place in the year 1900, and all the characters who appear in this book are long since dead, it hardly seems important.

Putting the book down for a second and looking at it as a film only, two movies come immediately to mind -- Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's Black Narcissus (1947) and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

My comparison with Black Narcissus has most to do with the tone of the film. Centered on the refined, prim and proper schoolgirls at Appleyard College, the last thing you would expect following the opening scenes of girls preparing for the day with song, poetry and corsets is a film of this nature.

As for 2001, I see the monolith of Kubrick's sci-fi achievement and the volcanic Hanging Rock as almost one and the same. Both are accompanied by a haunting score that only strengthens the more time spent looking at them. And both clearly have a profound effect on the narratives themselves and the characters that come in contact with them, not to mention the metaphysical comparisons.

Both 2001 and Hanging Rock, I believe, have supernatural, scientific and/or religious themes throughout. With Hanging Rock specifically, one way I see of looking at Hanging Rock itself, is as a representation of the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. Headmistress Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts) warns the girls to stay away, citing poisonous snakes and other dangers. The forbidden tree, however, is also known as the tree of knowledge. To look at the film in a Christian context, I wonder, Did the girls find knowledge or were they punished for their disobedience?

Considering I see Mrs. Appleyard as hardly a physical representation of God, it takes away from this interpretation while also making it hard to believe the girls would be punished for their curiosity as were Adam and Eve. To that end, however, what was it that happened to them?

When looking for additional themes to explore, I'm curious what meaning some of you may find in Felicia Hemans's "Casabianca" which is referenced repeatedly. Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 is overheard at the base of the rock, which I read as some sort of implication of immortality.

A scene from Picnic at Hanging Rock
Photo: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

I was also fascinated by this scene in the film and the idea of the girls -- Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert) being referred to as a Botticelli Angel -- and their ascension up the rock, out of Purgatory, toward Paradise. To interpret it in this way is to suggest layers of status and consciousness, something I think this film delves in deeply.

The film opens and almost immediately we hear a quote from Edgar Allen Poe's "A Dream Within a Dream":

What we see and what we seem are but a dream, a dream within a dream.

What's interesting about this is that it gives us a hint at just exactly what may have happened to the girls as well as introduces many of us to something we may have never heard of, which is the story's relation to Australian Aborigine Dreamtime (or "Dreaming"). I had never heard of this, but to search for answers I offer this from the linked article:

Dreamtime refers to an experience and to beliefs that are largely peculiar to the Australian native people. There are at least four aspects to Dreamtime – The beginning of all things; the life and influence of the ancestors; the way of life and death; and sources of power in life.

The aborigine people believed that each person had a part of their nature that was eternal. This eternal being pre-existed the life of the individual, and only became a living person through being born to a mother. The person then lived a life in time, and at death melted back into the eternal life.

Jane Vallis in Picnic at Hanging Rock
Jane Vallis in Picnic at Hanging Rock
Photo: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

This idea is perpetuated in the scene where the girls all fall in a circle during their climb and we see beetles on Miranda and a lizard near Marion (Jane Vallis). The appearance of these is not coincidence as they are to be interpreted as each girl's totem, a symbol that connects them to their ancestors throughout time and is significant in Australian culture. Note the absence of a totem for both Edith (Christine Schuler) and Irma (Karen Robson).

Many speculate this is what happened to both Marion and Miranda as well as Miss McCraw. I don't know about you, but all this talk of dreaming, totems and dreams within dreams, not to mention the image above, of which I said made me think of Purgatory (and by relation, limbo), I can only think of one film that may have taken all of this (even Kubrick's 2001) and put it together in a way that brought in millions.

(left) Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception and Anne-Louise Lambert in Picnic at Hanging Rock
(left) Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception and (right) Anne-Louise Lambert in Picnic at Hanging Rock
Photo: Warner Bros. / Atlantic Releasing Corporation

Yes, as cliche and tired as it has become to compare it to other films, Christopher Nolan's Inception bears a striking resemblance -- the "Dreamtime" suggestion of multiple states of consciousness and the idea of totems that connect us through time as a physical representation of reality that is not ourselves, but in a way linked.

In case you weren't aware, Lindsay's novel was originally published without the Eighteenth Chapter (read it here), which was later published at her request following her death. Inside it, we read the girls' corsets hung in the air after being flung off the ledge. Again, the visual panache of Nolan's Inception comes to mind, perhaps something that informed the film's visual style.

Strangely, Inception almost helps explain the first mystery of the film and the idea of time. The deeper you go into a dream in Inception the slower time goes, where years in dreamtime could represent mere seconds in reality.

The idea of time is heavily at play in Picnic at Hanging Rock as clocks stop at the Rock. Miranda has even gone so far as to remove the timepiece she carried around her neck, unable to stand the ticking of the clock above her heart, as if to no longer wanting to be reminded of the passing of time. Think on it, how long were they on the rock? How long did they say they'd be up there?

With that, I feel I should be quiet and open the floor to you. I do so without even touching upon Sara's (Margaret Nelson) character or the two boys Michael Fitzhubert (Dominic Guard) and Albert Crundall (John Jarratt).


What were your initial impressions of the film before digging into its mystery? Were you compelled by the mystery or frustrated by the seeming lack of information?

Does the fact it's largely an Australian film, which necessitates some understanding of Australian history change your opinion of the film for better or worse?

I wonder, what do you make of Sara's character? Why do you believe her story is being told?

The two boys are clearly from different stations in life, what do these differences mean?

Have you read the book? Did you read it before or after seeing the movie? What effect did that have on your viewing of the film?

And, of course, how do you interpret the disappearance of the girls?


  1. No topic is off limits as long as it pertains to the film discussed or comes as a natural progression of the conversation.
  2. Keep your comments to a reasonable length. I know the urge to write a lot at once is there, but try to rein it in and get out one thought at a time. That way the conversation will move more fluidly and make sure none of your thoughts are overlooked.
  3. NO BULLYING: This is important, while you are free to disagree, do so in a mature manner. Hopefully I won't have to explain that any further.


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  • Criterion10

    And thus begins our first movie club discussion. Here's to what will hopefully be the beginning of something great!

    I really liked Picnic at Hanging Rock when I first saw it, and rewatching it last weekend proved that it is a film which still resonates with me. I could go on about the haunting score, or the beautiful cinematography, but what really impacted me personally with the film was the mood and the atmosphere that it set off.

    I'm glad that one of the questions you asked was about Sara, because as I revisited the film, I too wondered what was the significance of this side story. It is a very interesting one, and I certainly had no complaints with it, but rather I wondered what exactly was the purpose of it. I personally haven't reached any conclusions about it at the moment, so I'd be interested to hear what others think about the film.

    I think that interpreting the dissappearance of the girls is almost irrelevant in a sense. By leaving it open ended, the film not only becomes much more eerie, but it also makes it evident that what exactly happened to the girls isn't the focus of the film. When I first saw the film, I always looked at it as a study of the effects the mystery has on the different characters. Watching it again, I would say this is true, but there is much more deeper symbolism and hidden meanings going on. Brad, you definitely touched upon some interesting ones regarding dreams and time.

    Unfortunately, I actually knew beforehand that the mystery would not be solved. Maybe this helped me prepare better for the film and thus is part of the reason that I like it so much, or maybe I would've felt this way regardless.

    An interesting theme regarding nature that I focused on:
    There are many shots of nature in the film, in particular the animals that inhabit the land like snakes and ants. In one sequence, one of the characters says something to the effect of, "We might as well be the only creatures in the world out here!" Shots of ants on the ground immediately follow this shot, juxtaposing the character's statement. It's as if Weir is trying to say how there is so much unknown to us about the world.

    • chewbaca38

      I as well was thinking about the "We might as well be the only creatures in this world." To me this strongly signified how naive the characters of the film had been trained to be, and why taking them to Hanging Rock was such a significant event. I do think that contemplating what happened during the disappearance of the girls is essentially irrelevant as well. No matter what was happening, bad or good, during the disappearance, the girls went through a period of self discovery. They enter Hanging Rock believing that they are the only creatures on earth, and leave having discovered that there is more to the world than what they know, and that they might not be as significant as they think they are.

    • Criterion10

      I should have also added a few other comments about the theme I noticed regarding nature. There are many shots in the film of the rock itself that look a lot like a human face. It's as if Weir is trying to personify the rock. He does this in another instance in the sequence where one of the characters who works at the school tells another about the plants that can move. He eventually demonstrates by touching them and watching their leaves curl up. It can't be a coincidence that when Sara commits suicide, her body is found directly on top of these plants.

      Swans also appear to be a motif in the film. Michael sees one at the edge of his bed one night, and another in his pond when he sees Miranda in what has to be a dream sequence/vision.

      • Winchester

        I think the 'faces' on the rock suits itself to the more supernatural and possibly mystical interpretations of the film.

        The rock is presented as one of those places where things simply seem a little out of sych with reality or the perception of it. Timepieces don't work around it (could be magnetism as Miss McCraw suggests) and it feels very otherworldly.

        This could have been an ancient site where ancient peoples carried out unknown activities and that may tie in to some interpretations I read which also involved the ancient history of Australia and it's colonialisation, of these scientifically minded and colonising humans meeting an environment beyond mere measure and study in the context of their books (such as the science book held by Miss McCraw).

        But then I also have to say I rather did not like Lindsay's eighteenth chapter when I read it....................but it certainly proves (as did watching the Blu-ray extras) that time was a fascinating thing for her.

      • Brad Brevet

        I certainly noticed an attempt to find faces in the rock, as for the swan, I see that as a representation of Miranda. Just as Michael thinks he sees Miranda when he's up on the rock and then she disappears, the swan does the same thing when he sees it later in the film. Sort of that play on swan wings are like angel wings and how Miranda was referred to as a Botticelli Angel.

  • Winchester

    Ah, inauguration time!

    I don't know how this is going to flow but I will start by answering the questions you set and then go into a little more detail.

    1: Initially, I was more intrigued by the photography, music, performances and mood of the film. It's dreamlike nature in places and the fact that it seemed to blend supernatural elements, horror, mystery and some other elements.

    2: That it's Australian might offer some certain interpretations up but overall it's not something that has a major effect.

    3: Sara's story seems to be to be part of my feeling that her story is tied directly to the ripple effect of the girls, although I again admit to borrowing that from the main interpretation that I liked which I will link to below.

    4: As to the men, I'm not sure about that so far.

    5: I hadn't read the book beforehand and still have not read it. As far as I know, Lindsay continually claimed that 'some' things in the book may have happened in reality (perhaps to her, perhaps not) but she would never reveal which things they may have been.

    6: My theory is self admittedly borrowed from the link I'm about to paste in which I found when having a look online into what others had felt about the book. My feel here is that I like this for a couple of reasons, some of which are made by the author of the interpretation (although the interpretation is based on the book, not the film, I feel that clues exist in the film which also support this aspect of reasoning). This is also because I believe one of the main aspects of the story is actually the exploration of what happened after the disappearances. So, in effect I think what happened to the girls is that they either were crushed in a rockfall, or got lost deep inside the rocks themselves and died, never to be found. But it's the ripple effect of that disappearance which matters.

    The reason I like this is simply because I agree with the central premise - If Lindsay intended the film to be in part a mystery, then SHE at least HAD to have known in her head what really happened, even if she (and by extension the film) never explicitly tells us.

    However, this is far from a one size fits all solution and many more ways of looking at the film are possible.

    Originally when I wrote my thoughts on the film a few weeks ago I wrote this -

    ''After seeing it crop up in mentions before I decided to watch it. This really wasn't anything at all what I sort of dimly thought it was going to be like, and I mean that in the best possible way. The mystery constructed by Joan Lindsay over the disappearance of some schoolgirls and a teacher on a picnic afternoon seems almost insolvable to such a degree that I almost think that's the point. The mystery is not the point of the story. There seems no one answer that can make total sense unless referring back to the book it seems. Beautifully shot by Peter Weir I watched this twice this week, and then watched all the bonus material to try and get a handle on it's various possible interpretations and meanings. I then did some digging on the book (which I haven't read) and I found a theory that I liked based on an analysis of the book. However, I think clues that fit that same theory may exist in the film as well about what really happened. To me, I think the strongest idea running through the film is a kind of temporal one. Timing. The bulk of the film is an exploration of the ripple effect of the disappearance itself has on all those involved after what went on. Some of which are tragic. Many of which would never have happened if the mysterious timing of the girls' vanishing had been off by even a few minutes or more. But there's also easily a kind of mystical, supernatural way to take things, particular around the character of Miranda and her seemingly aware nature of something greater about to happen to her. I think this is a film ripe for many rewatches and many discussions. Playing in part as a horror and yet not a horror I have to say that for a film not overtly horror based the very final shot of Rachel Roberts is as instantly chilling and open to exploration as anything I've seen in an outright horror film. This is a film I will come back to I have no doubt.''

    However, I'm writing this much just now merely because in the UK it's about time for me to hit the hay so I wanted to get as much out just now as I could pending hopefully a whole slew of comments tomorrow.

    • SohoDriver

      Ahh, Winchester, you're in the UK? How did you get hold of the film, if I may ask?

      • Criterion10

        I believe Second Sight released a Blu-Ray of the film in the UK... Might have to import it if Criterion doesn't get around to it soon.

      • Winchester

        I rented the Blu-ray from Lovefilm a few weeks back. They have it to rent on that format plus also just now it can be streamed. I think it can be bought from some online stores as well, but I've never seen it instores anywhere. I think it's probably not that commonly found.

        I actually rewatched the film again this evening via streaming to refresh myself on it.

  • Ben Rosner

    Just watched the film for the first time yesterday. Excellent movie. As someone who is an avid music listener, I found the pan flute to add a really nice, haunting effect. Anyways, I normally don't like films that end without a real conclusion. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. There are so many motifs and great uses of foreshadowing. I didn't really notice the faces on the rock until about an hour into the film. The faces make me think that the missing girls were always destined to become part of the rock. I also was wondering why all the girls that were found were missing skirts. Throughout the film, I thought that they might have been raped or molested. But my theory was never brought to a conclusion. Lastly, I truly believe the great thing about the film is its open-ended ending. You really have to decide for yourself what happened on Hanging Rock that day.

    • Brad Brevet

      The missing corsets is tough. If you read that Eighteenth Chapter I link to above, it has have them throwing them off the ledge where they hang in mid-air. One idea I have is that by removing them they are freeing themselves from such a restrictive piece of clothing, a symbol of a world they no longer belong to.

      • Ben Rosner

        On an unrelated note, I found the totem theory that you mentioned especially intriguing. This is definitely a film that demands to be watched two or three times.

      • hannesminkema

        You should not believe that this so-called 'missing 18th chapter' was written by Joan Lindsay herself, because it probably is not. There is no material evidence whatsoever for this idea: no manuscript, no typoscript, no annotations, no notary document transferring the rights to her publisher, no 'last will' in which Lindsay says she wants the chapter published after her death.

        All we have is hearsay, and more hearsay, by her editor/publisher, who made quite some money off the published "18th chapter" and the renewed interest in 'Picnic'.

        My best guess is that this is a total sham. Lindsay was a fierce and vocal advocate of her novel as being conceived of and written as open-ended. She loathed the idea of there being some practical who-dunnit solution to the book. And seriously, the solution totally undermines the literary and philosophical qualities of this great novel.

        So please take the 'missing 18th chapter' for what it most probably is - a sham.

  • Timothy

    I'll keep it short, and confine my comment solely on the disappearance. There are a couple theories floating around (I even believe they wrote a book on the subject).

    1. ALIENS:
    I really don't think I should elaborate, as it being completely ludicrous, but you never know.

    This will take some explaining. They went through the rocks, and came out, having never disappeared. However, the film continued in an alternate timeline, where in reality they had never disappeared.

    This may be the easiest explanation. They slipped and fell through a crack. They could have broken their necks, or they couldn't have been trapped, and one managed to crawl out, but was shaken so much by the trauma, she forgot the whole experienced.

    This time I'm theorizing on vague memories, I saw the film a while ago. There was always something off putting about one of the boys, and as he got up and followed in their general direction, he could have just murdered them, or perhaps raped them beforehand, and then hidden the bodies.

    This probably doesn't make much sense, but given my limited knowledge on Botticelli angels, and on the christian religion in general, I can only make assumptions. Like Brad said above, they could have been ascending to purgatory, or perhaps to heaven. Again, I'm not quite sure.

    That's all I have, but I wonder something. I remember that the night before Miranda's (perhaps a sexual attraction?) best friend (SPOILER) committed suicide, one of the boys spoke of a dream he had in which he talked to his sister, whom he hadn't seen for some time. Given that Miranda's friend was adopted, could they have been related?

    Just some ideas, it would be great to see how this discussion goes. Overall, I found the film to be intensely atmospheric, and even Gothic. I love how we don't get answers, just questions, which makes it even better for discussion.

    • Ben Rosner

      Like I said before, I truly believe in the rape/murder theory. It just seems to make the most sense with the missing corsets and all.

      • Timothy

        I would agree, if I had to pick one. But because they don't state anything, you can only guess.

      • Criterion10

        In regards to the rape/murder theory, I belive there was a moment where the doctor is analyzing Urma, the found girl, and makes it clear that she was not raped...

        • Timothy

          Perhaps, but isn't there a scene where the maid doesn't tell the police that she wasn't wearing a piece of clothing? But again, I can't remember that well.

          • Criterion10

            There was. I forget the exact dialogue, but there definitely was a scene like that.

            • IngmarTheBergman

              Them being raped doesn't explain how they suddenly walked off being hypnotized.

    • Brad Brevet

      As to your question, yes, Albert and Sara are brother and sister. The dynamic between the two boys is also important in my opinion as they come from two different worlds, but I haven't sorted out the meaning quite yet. I have a feeling Albert being a stable boy compared to the more proper Michael, thus giving us more information on Sara. I have a feeling this is rooted more in Australian history than my knowledge is able understand.

    • Kessler

      I disagree with your theory that the boys murdered and raped the girls. To me, it seemed that Michael genuinely felt guilty about what happened to the girls and wanted to help. And Albert then joined him because he saw how Michael was deeply affected by it.

  • Kessler

    I liked the film, but with some reservations. I'll start with my problems of it first. One is the character development. No one is developed except for Sarah and Albert. It's very hard to feel for anybody in it. I guess one could argue that it's about the mystery and characters aren't the point, but that did annoy me when I watched it. My main problem is with the Sara and Abert storyline. The more I think about it, the less it makes sense to me. The whole twist about them being brother and sister felt like nothing more than a Gotcha moment in a thriller. It's a surprising moment but it doesn't really add anything to the story. It doesn't change the way you think about Albert or Sara. You could take it out the movie and it wouldn't change a thing.

    Now for what I liked about it. The score and cinematography are top-notch. It is very haunting and atmospheric which I loved about it. After the movie ended, it was hard for me to stop thinking about it. I can still recall the scene where Michael is delirious after searching for the girls. Also the scene where Edith screams as the girls walk up the rock. I'm getting chills just thinking about.

    The one movie that I would compare it to is Zodiac. Mainly because the mystery is never fully resolved. It actually works in this film because it leaves you wanting more and want to return to it. My conclusion on the disappearance is the girls entered a dream-like state and probably won't return. My conclusion is based upon the 18th chapter which I'm willing to discuss with anybody who read it.

    Brad, you bring up a good point about the girls being punished for their disobedience, which explains why they get lost on the rock. That thought also crossed my mind after watching it.

    Overall, I think this is a haunting and very effective movie. I liked the mystery, the deeper meaning, and movie is a technical achievement. I just wished that I had some characters to care about in the end. To be fair, I have only seen this movie once. I plan on watching it again and will hopefully find something more.

    • Brad Brevet

      To your character complaint, I'd argue those characters aren't developed as characters because you aren't supposed to feel for them as characters, but more as symbols. This may, in fact, be a clue as to what we should take away from the film, but not giving those characters any more details makes us wonder more about what and/or why they disappeared rather than mourning their loss. Just a thought.

      • Aleonardis

        But it's hard to feel for the characters who ARE mourning the loss of these girls. The bulk of the movie is about the ripple effect the disappearance of these girls create in the community. It's about these characters who are racking their brains trying to find the explanation for missing girls. If we're not given any development on these missing girls then it's hard to stay invested in the emotional effect that is crippling this community.

    • VintageBroadwayStar

      I agree with the lack of character development- I found it bizarre that the families of the missing girls never turned up at the school demanding to know what happened, or to join the search for them. This would have made things very realistic, and I guess the film is trying to achieve a more ethereal, dreamlike effect, but it was convoluted for the audience, because all the other characters are quite affected by the disappearances, but we can't feel that same anguish because of a lack of realism at the situation.

  • G-Man

    Interesting analysis from all. Definitely didn't explore the themes and motifs beyond the obvious (i.e. reptiles and insects) on my first watch, which was approx 3 weeks ago now. Feel like I really need to re-watch this to play ball, but am really not motivated to do so given my distaste upon first viewing. Maybe I would like it more on rewatch if I paid attention to what everyone is discussing. I do recall enjoying Rachel Roberts performance as Mrs. Appleyard, but that was about it. I felt very little connection with any of the characters and was turned off by the lack of closure.

    • marlonwallace

      I agree with you, G-Man. the most memorable thing was Mrs. Appleyard, and to me, this movie is less about the disappearance, then it is the aftermath. i wish we got more of the other girls who were left behind, their reactions, but we're limited to just one scene that gives a hint at how the other girls are dealing with the mystery. what Sara goes through, especially with regard to Mrs. Appleyard, is the true meat here. Albert's obsession over going back to the Hanging Rock is compelling too.

  • Scott

    I have to say, I can't connect the dots with the storylines in this movie. Brad's theories on the aboriginal animal totems and dreamtime are elucidating, but the apparently Lesbian infatuation with Miranda by the one girl (Sara?), the screen time devoted to Mrs. Appleyard being heartlessly money-obsessed, the relationship between the farmboy and the dandy boy . . . if there's a grand thread tying those disparate lines together, I can't see it.

    Are the French teacher and the science teacher there to show contrast? And if so, shouldn't the more emotional French teacher have been the one to vanish, not the coldly analytical science teacher? I'm assuming the vanishing is meant as a compliment, like they were found worthy to be transported to another plane.

    Then again, the rocks were always shown ominously, like an Australian Stonehenge. I'd love to hear a plausible unifying theory to all the characters in this movie.

  • Mikey

    I absolutely loved the atmosphere of this film. Eerie is a great word to describe it.

    However what interests me most about this movie is how emotionally invested I got with the character of Sara. At a relatively young age, her friends disappear in a way she doesn't truly understand. Throughout the movie we match Sara's inability to comprehend what really happened that day. As her life comes crumbling down around her, all she really wants to know is what happened to her friends. But for whatever reason there is no satisfying conclusion about what happened, only fractured stories and puzzle pieces that don't add up. As an audience member, Sara's frustration resonated with me, making her death all the more meaningful. While its fun to theorize what happened to the girls, the film works best for me as a way of showing that sometimes terrible things happen in your life and no matter what you do you'll never really understand why or even what exactly happened.

    Also, while I don't necessarily buy into the rape/murder theory (although its growing on me), did anyone else see Michael's obsession with finding what happened to the girls as him realizing one of the girls (Irma) might have been left alive and wanting to finish the job?

    • Winchester

      I felt that Micheal became obsessed with finding Miranda (and I think it's intentional that it's Miranda herself he seems determined to find) more because he became completely spellbound with her when he saw her.

      When the two men see the girls, when Miranda crosses over the little creek or stream film is slowed just a bit almost as if time slows as she crosses. I think the vision of her beauty (like the Botticelli) at that time makes him infatuated with a dream of her.

      But Miranda herself is probably the biggest piece of evidence for some kind of mystical interpretation of the disappearance. At several points she appears to exhibit foreknowledge or awareness of something.

      She tells Sara that 'I won't be around much longer' and to find someone else to love (though I'm relatively dismissive of mere pedantic lesbianism at play, I think it's more akin to teenage crushes since Miranda is so beautiful) and also not long before they vanish says something like 'everything begins and ends at exactly the right time' (though I'm paraphrasing). Couple with one of the other girls commenting that its as if the rock has been waiting just for them to visit that day makes Miranda seem rather conscious of things beyond reality.

  • Harry Fuertes

    I'm seeing the movie this week probably. Can't wait considering what I'm reading here.

    • Harry Fuertes

      I just finished the film and I loved it. Atmospheric, haunting, brilliant altogether. My theory is probably not one that is going to be popular, but I'm certain its the answer. My theory is....extraterrestrial beings abducted the girls. Here are my reasons-

      1. The Hanging Rock itself is a UFO landing dock.

      2. It's possible that the 3 girls left are aliens themselves. Returning to their home after years of studying the ways of humans at the institute. That's why Marion told Sara to "love someone else". She knew she was returning for good. If you notice, they show the three faces together like their some sort of family.

      3. The dream quote in the beginning could be how the aliens feel towards Earth. "What we see and what we seem" is pretty much them talking about themselves. The "what we see" means Earth, and how it's like a dream to the aliens. The effect the humans had on them. The "what we seem" is how the humans percieved the aliens in their human form. Sara saw Marion as a dream. A lover. But truly, it's just a dream within a larger dream. The larger dream is Earth.

      4. I forgot the name of the large girl with the glasses, but she mentioned she saw a large red cloud as she ran down the slope. She said Marion didn't wear anything but underwear. Is this Marion taking off her human form and becoming what she truly is?

      5. The white swan is shown several times when Marion is mentioned. I watched Black Swan a couple of days ago, and we all know the story of Swan Lake. A beautiful princess is transforms into a white swan when she falls in love. It was her evil twin sister who turns her. Is Marion's true form an alien princess turned into a beautiful human by her jealous counterpart. Is it the teacher? It's a stretch.

      6. When Irma returns, she reveals that she remembers nothing and that several articles of clothing become missing. Usually people who are abducted by aliens don't remember anything either. Were the aliens experimenting on her?

      7. Their watches stop at noon at the picnic. [This is a classic example of what happens during a UFO abduction event, the stopping of time, or the "missing time" concept; for example, the watch of the abductee will be behind the regular time, and they will not be able to account for the "missing time" shown by the watch.]

      8. Michael seems cataconic when he apparently sees something. He has a cloth from one of the girls. They imply its Marion because he dreams of her. Over night, he seems to have gone a little crazy. Did he see something like a UFO landing and dropping off Irma? Does that explain the red cloud? The pickup of the girls(aliens)? Was Michael abducted too?

      I could be completely wrong about this and I could just be watching too much Prometheus. :)

  • Criterion10

    Just as an interesting side note, Peter Weir made a film called The Last Wave with Richard Chamberlain. It's been quite some time since I've seen it, and while I don't remember much, I do remember an important plot point regarding an Aborigine. So, it wouldn't surprise me if there were themes relating to the tribe in this film as well.

    • Hello Kitty

      Nicholas Roeg's Walkabout was another Australian film with an ending that doesn't give clarification. It wasn't until I read the book that I understood the ending. Roeg certainly didn't spell it out.

      I always thought of Picnic at Hanging Rock as a clash between nature and civilization.

  • Beautifulm

    I really liked the film. I don't really have any different theories,but I'm curious as to why Irma was found.

    • Will-E

      If the Rock is enlightenment, Irma either rejected it, or she wasn't ready and was rejected.

  • Will-E

    I'd like to start by saying that the Movie Club is a very good idea and Picnic at Hanging Rock was surely a great choice to begin. Having said that, I was not a big fan of this film. This will surely place me in the minority of commenters. I like films that require rumination, so this seemed to be something I would generally like. However, I felt the story was a little too disconnected. The two part story structure (part 1 being the girls, part 2 being the aftermath and Sara's story), caused a little imbalance that I couldn't get over. I felt the core of the film is not the mystery of the disappearance of the girls, but the obsession of the boys and the school with finding the answers. Ultimately, this is why we don't get answers either. If more time was spend on Sara's character and her reactions to Miranda's disappearance. It's belief that the ambiguity of all that surrounds the Picnic, much of what will be discussed here, means nothing and is included to spark conversation and put you in the shoes of the community. Thusly, it isn't as important to me as the development of the boys, and Sara.

  • AS

    Well, I seem to be the only person who didn't particularly care for this film. I don't have much of anything to say about it, as the film left me pretty indifferent. I found Brad's analysis to be quite interesting and informative, but unfortunately it didn't make the film anymore compelling for me. To be frank, I found the whole film rather dull and tedious (especially towards the end).

    Many have been describing the score and the atmosphere as "eerie" and "haunting." This is interesting to me, because I didn't get that vibe at all. Actually, that one piece of music reminded me of Once Upon a Time in America. Anyway, Picnic at Hanging Rock has joined Dead Poets Society as my two least favorite Peter Weir films.

    • AS

      Oh yeah, here's 2 ideas for some movies to discuss in the future:

      The Third Man
      Valhalla Rising

      • Criterion10

        Not to get off topic, but The Third Man is a great movie. Haven't seen it in quite some time, but I can remember it being one of the first "classic" films that I watched when I was younger. I remember being blown away by it. Happy that I own the OOP Criterion Blu-Ray.

        • AS

          The Third Man is a film that has always stood out to me when talking about films that came out pre-1960. I have a problem with most films that came out before 1960 because the performances and score's are sooo over-the-top that it's often difficult to enjoy the film because everything is being thrown in your face. THAT'S what I really liked about TTM! The performances are understated and nuanced and that zither score is terrific.

          • DiscoPaco

            I see what you mean. That was before naturalistic acting (brought on by Dean, Brando, etc) became the standard. Before, over the top acting or stylized as I would call it, was considered the norm and wasn't seen as a failure to evoke truth. The intent was "this is a movie so it gets movie characters acting like such." Once I put that filter over it and transport my expectations to the era I can enjoy those films a lot more. I can see them for the classics/masterpieces that they are [except the crap ones of course :)]

      • Brad Brevet

        Please submit suggestions using the email address provided for suggestions so the conversation remains on topic.

        • AS

          My apologies Mr. Brevet.

    • G-Man

      Did you read mine and Kessler's responses? It doesn't happen often, but I agree with you on this. I'm unfortunately in the same boat without having much to say for the first Movie Club discussion. Sure there were some good shots from a filmmaking persective, but the plot / characters were just kind of there and lacked intrigue unless I was really searching for some deeper meaning.

    • Engenius

      I agree as well. I don't think the director gave enough for the audience to work with and analyze. Personally, I found the most interesting parts of the film were the reactions to the situation, or rather, how people dealt with the disappearance of the girls rather than the disappearance itself. Altogether, I liked it; I just wanted a bit more. It seems to be a success tonally more than anything else and I could definitely appreciate the eerie mood the director sets as well. A somewhat similar movie that I think is much better is The White Ribbon. I encourage those that liked this movie to watch that one as well.

      • AS

        I definitely thought about The White Ribbon while watching this. However, TWR is, as you said, much better.

    • Anodos

      That music reminds you of Once Upon A Time In America because both pieces are by the Romanian pan flute player Gheorghe Zamfir - he has a very distinctive sound. I'm slightly surprised you didn't find it 'eerie and haunting' though, as I think it has that effect in both movies.

  • JJ

    Don't have much to add, but I really enjoyed the movie. Like others have mentioned, I really enjoyed the atmosphere the film creates, the score and the cinematography. All top notch. I figured there wouldn't be any answers, and am totally fine with that, but I do agree that some things seem to come up randomly that arent adressed again (ie random brother comment). I also read the unreleased chapter which discusses "a hole in space" and that the girls turn into animals and disappear in a crack in the wall.....which is interesting, but definitely would NOT have fit in with the movie (if this info had been known at the time).

    I also like the suggestions for future movies, but might I add PERSONA as a Bergman entry. I think that would be a fun one to discuss.

  • G-Man

    Brad - once again, I enjoyed reading your initial comments in the article. overall, would you say you liked Picnic at Hanging Rock?

  • Brian

    Initially I was on the fence about the film, part interested in the mystery but also frustrated by lack of information given. Around halfway through I started to give up on an explanation and started to focus more on the reactions of everyone else to the missing girls (Sara, the other students, the headmistress, the two boys, the townspeople, etc.) This lead to my reading of the film as less about the actual disappearance and more about it's consequences, something a few people here said already.

    I like Criterion10 & chewbaca38's views on the meaning behind "We might as well be the only creatures in the world out here!" I read it as more cryptic foreshadowing for the new world after their disappearance, one that's been turned on it's head and suddenly lacks rational meaning for most of it's remaining inhabitants.

  • JaneD

    I have not read the book but I did think that I had watched this film many years ago in my late teen or early twenties. However, as I watched it over the weekend, I realized that I had only seen it up to the point where the three girls disappear in a dream-like state into the rocks fissure without a backward glance at the hysterical Edith. I believe that I didn’t finish watching the film all those years ago because I was pretty freaked out by the whole thing. I guess I imagined that the film would continue with the girls being raped or killed or some such horror. But the horror, as it turns out, was much greater – that of never knowing what happened to them.

    I want to address the question Brad posed about it being an Australian film because to me this could ONLY be an Australian film and I think some knowledge is helpful:
    • Brad has already touched upon the Aboriginal Dreamtime and totems and I think that this is significant to the film. Dreamtime stories are tied to the local landscape. As I understand it (this is very simplified), each local Aboriginal group in Australia has it’s own mythical being that is transformed into a local mountain range. These sites are sacred. Perhaps, Hanging Rock was a sacred site. [Australia’s most well know sacred site is Uluru (Ayers Rock) Also, if I extend what I know about Uluru (Ayers Rock), the local Aboriginals there do not climb it and prefer that others don’t as they believe it will interrupt the dreamtime track .] Perhaps the girls interrupted a dreamtime track.
    • Also the repeated mention of deadly snakes in the brush is no joke in Australia – Australia has more of its fair share of dangerous fauna. So perhaps the girls were victims of snake bites (not a strong possibility in my view).
    • Beginning in the 1788, Australia was settled as a colony to house convicts from Britain. Though this had stopped by 1868, there may have been a stigma attached to being a descendant of convict stock versus newer immigrants that began coming in the 1850s. Michael has a more British accent and is from a wealthy aristocratic class (new immigrant stock??) while Albert is an orphan, working class and has a strong Australian accent indicating he has been there longer (convict stock??). This is just a theory.

    The use of the colour red in the film really struck me.
    • It is used around the beginning of the film when the girls are celebrating St. Valentine’s Day. The girls scatter red rose petals, and hoist a small statue of cupid with a red rose fixed in his arms – as if in a form of worship.
    • Miss McCraw is the only picnicker in the school’s party who is wearing a colour other than white. She wears a deep burgundy gown with a veil covering her face. She spouts facts about geology and voices concern about the party going out in the wilds. As I recall we never see her without the hat and veil on. Almost as she is closing herself off to the temptations of nature, During the picnic she is reading her book on geometry. She strongly believes in the theories of math and science, yet it is it she who is seen by Edith dashing up the rock without her bloomers.
    • Irma makes her farewell visit to her classmates in a striking, blood red travelling ensemble where girls all set upon her in hysterics pleading for answers.
    • Finally there is one man in the community search party dressed in a tricorn hat with a long bright red dress military jacket. I believe he is an Aboriginal ‘tracker’ but I am not sure. He is only in a couple of shots.

    Like I said I have not sorted out the significance of this as there is so much to mull over and unfortunately I won't have time to watch this again before I have to return the DVD to the library. :o( This is a great first choice for the Movie Club, Brad, as there sure is lots of food for thought with this haunting film!

    • Brad Brevet

      Really good stuff here, I'm particularly interested in the Australian additions you brought to the table as I know there is a lot that I missed out not knowing enough. Thanks for your contribution to the conversation!

      • Michael

        No problem, Brad; I'm happy to contribute and it's very pleasing to see the high quality of discussion in this thread, forty five years after the film's release! Much of that information is difficult to find and has taken me some time to assemble. But being close to the settings and references has certainly helped. The Rock is still a grand and imposing presence; a favourite of mine to visit at every opportunity.

        • Michael

          Please pardon the sad state of my weary arithmetic mind - it's actually forty five years since the *novel's* release (1967) and thirty seven since that of the film.

  • Michael

    A most thoughtful review; thank you. The translation to motion picture from the novel was faithfully achieved by the great Australian screenwriter, Cliff Green. May I correct you, though, on the standing of Chapter 18: It was actually discarded prior to publication with the consensus of both Joan Lindsay and her publisher. An editor at the time, Sandra Forbes, recalled that Lindsay was 'never really happy with it.' However, the rights to it were subsequently given to John Taylor whose decision it was to publish it posthumously as 'The Secret of Hanging Rock' in 1987, and not at Lindsay's request. And one can understand why after viewing a 1975 interview she gave for the Arts Australia Council, in which her view on what might have happened was far more sophisticated and in sharp distinction to the the imagery she created in the discarded chapter. Joan Lindsay had a personal aversion to time-keeping in all its forms, and her opinion of the nature of time itself was eloquent and years ahead of her own. This forms the basis on which Picnic's mystery stands.

  • tombeet

    I, too, pretty much agree with the comment below (JaneD). Hanging Rock is a
    symbol of sacred place where people not suppose to disturb, but the three girls did.

    I particularly don’t think the disappearance of the girls are some sort of punishment, It’s more to show the way those girls breaking their social barriers and free to escape (so some sorts of reward really)

    The social barriers also play as important theme of the film. Sara and the boys’ backstories are pretty much about the aftermath (how they cope with the incident) and breaking their social life.

    Also, folklore considers swans to transport spirits back to their world, so I think it fits nicely into the film. (but I actually prefer the idea that the girls turn into swans, just so we can ignore all the historical aspects.)

  • Winchester

    Separate from the girls themselves I was intrigued a little bit by Mrs Appleyard and Sara - who she seems needlessly cruel to even before the vanishing - and their relationship.

    But at the end Appleyard lies about Sara leaving the school and seems unsurprised at the end when about to be told of her death. What did she know? Or do maybe? Did she think Sara had run away and lied to cover it up to the staff, or did she already know Sara was dead? If so, when and how?

    Also, it seemed to me that the film implied that Sara and Bertie may not have known they were brother and sister (at least that was the feel I got) and yet he has a dream almost like a premonition of her leaving (dying?) seemingly on the same night she died. It seems like almost a sub-mystery within the film separate from the girls.

    • Brad Brevet

      I am convinced this section of the story refers to the Stolen Generations in Australia, I'm just not well-versed enough in Australian history to speak on it well enough, which is frustrating. :)

      • Winchester

        Possible. I guess that could tie into possible subtexts over the two men as well.

        I had this feeling though after watching the Blu Ray version and going through the extras that Lindsay was using the book to excorcise or process in some way something internal to her or something in her life or past and structured things in a way that they can never be solved (because in effect the mystery is insolveable if you ignore the last chapter published later) so that the reader/viewer is forced to take away their own impression and never anyone else's.

        Allowing Lindsay to have her meaning and everyone theirs. I think that's why much of it simply doesn't connect up in a way that completes things.

      • VintageBroadwayStar

        From what I learned in school, the Stolen Generation was the name given to a generation of Aboriginal children that were tliterally stolen from their families and taught 'white ways'. It was believed that if an Aboriginal person had a child with a white person, the child would have paler skin, and so on and so on through the generations until the 'black' had been completely stamped out (so, genocide, in a way). Some Aboriginal children were naturally paler, and these were favoured as they could usually pass straight away for white children and brought up to be housewives, etc and no one need ever know of their Aboriginal heritage. A lot of the children never saw their parents again, or lost siblings or cousins (a good film to check out on the subject is Rabbit Proof Fence, this will also give you a better understanding of the Stolen Generation).
        I may only be a first generation Australian, but I hate the fact these sort of sick things went on (and still do).

  • Stefan

    This is very good. I saw Picnic at Hanging Rock about 20 years ago, but failed to understand it then (ok, I was 20 then....). I have the DVD but have not yet managed to watch it again. Brad's reflections and this high-profile discussion make me wishing to see it again at short notice.

    • Ben Rosner

      I have to admit, I'm 20 years old (almost 21) and there are lots of motifs and symbols that I missed during my first viewing. For example, the totem/animal significance I didn't even think of until after I read Brad's review.

  • Anodos

    Brad, have you seen the original version of the film, or just the director's cut? When the film was released on home media Peter Weir cut roughly seven minutes from the movie, apparently to make it even more spare and elliptical than the original. As I remember the only substantial scenes removed were a couple with Irma and Michael after she returned. There's an article here:
    (I don't know how to do links in a comment box - sorry!) which details the changes.

    I would recommend this Great Movies article by Roger Ebert, who lists several more films of a similar theme or mood:

    'Walkabout' by Nicolas Roeg was the film I immediately thought of - I think it makes a very good companion piece and counterpoint to this film.

    • chewbaca38

      I also thought of Walkabout. Wolf Creek as well strangely.

    • Brad Brevet

      I watched the Criterion edition and looking at that link you provide I must say, it would, at the very least, make for some additional discussion. Thanks for linking.

  • Ben Rosner

    I watched the Criterion version as well. Not sure where you could even find the original theatrical version.

    • Michael

      The 25th anniversary edition is available through Umbrella Entertainment in AU and has a full-length feature documentary on the making of Picnic, along with interviews with director, producers, cast and crew. The scenes cut by Peter Weir are included as a special feature.

  • JaneD

    After doing a bit of research on the inter-webs I found this link to an academic paper from a conference proceedings out of the University of Sydney. It has interesting insight into the film, some of which has already come up in our discussion.

    (from the proceedings: The Buddha of Suburbia: Proceedings of the Eighth Australian and International Religion, Literature and the Arts Conference 2004)

  • shahbakht

    I hadnt heard of this film prior to Brad mentioning it (hey, thats the point of a movie club). Anywho, I loved this one. It was visceral, imaginative, weirdly scary. Like The Shining, it achieved the feat of being a horror movie without actually inducting any horror movie elements in it. For this one, the setting, the music, the amazing, amazing cinematography were the champions.
    I loved that the mystery was left unsolved. It made it so much intriguing and hence we are talking so much about it. Everything about this movie speaks of mystique and reading the comments on this have made me aware of so much about the mythos behind the project. The Australian trajectory was particularly illuminating.

    Now, on to The Ice Storm. (though I have my mid terms on Monday, but this movie club is important as well. I wish I had to take a test on this...)

  • Disco Paco

    If you liked this movie I suggest watching Walkabout. Also from the 70s. Also set in Australia. Also ambiguous and symbolic. Also as subtle as rock to the head. Liked Hanging Rock but that swan symbolism. Sheesh. Did not age well. Would write more but lunch break is over.

  • Sean Fast

    I've heard Plato's Cave theory as a possible explanation to the disappearance of the girls. Leaving the shackles of the shadow world and joining the higher truth. It meshes well with the tree of knowledge idea.

  • MH

    Why are people guessing at the solution to the mystery, when it is easily available? "The Secret of Hanging Rock" (1987, previously unpublished ending of the novel)--in summary: the characters enter a hole in space (there is much more, but basically, as I understand it, an occult solution).
    As I recall, Peter Weir wanted to leave out the ending with the solution in order to create an effect.
    The power of Peter Weir's film comes from his direction as well as the music. His attempt was to create an sensory experience for the viewer during the Hanging Rock sequence. He is one of the directors who has the perfect final shot, and this one is similar to what he did with "Gallipoli".
    I became a fan of Weir based on these two films.

    • Ben Rosner

      Well that basically sums it up, I guess.

    • Michael

      Actually, Chapter 18 is no solution as it was discarded by the author and editor prior to publication in 1967. Joan Lindsay was known to have been not happy with it, but the rights to it remained with her publisher who decided that it could be released and marketed as 'The Secret...' after her death. In a 1974 interview however, Lindsay revealed that she had thought about what might have happened and briefly touched upon this, illustrating a clear departure from the imagery of the discarded chapter.

      • Brad Brevet

        That's not the history I've read, do you have a link to an archival version of that interview> From how I understand it, the chapter was discarded by Lindsay at the behest of the publisher and she agreed, only to later allow the conclusion to be published after her death. I have never heard or read of any other version of the ending than Chapter Eighteen.

        • Michael

          Yes, the interview with Lindsay is here:

          You are correct in saying that its posthumous release by her publisher, John Taylor, in 1987 had her approval. But the marketing of it as being 'the secret of..' and 'the solution', is where its standing has been misrepresented, in my view.

          One of her junior editors, Sandra Forbes, recalled that she didn't view it as 'the secret' but just the chapter that didn't make it to publication.

          "The editorial team, working closely with the writer, decided the manuscript functioned better with the final chapter, Chapter Eighteen, expunged from the text.

          'Joan was always doubtful about that final chapter,' Sandra Forbes recalled twenty years later, 'Its eventual exclusion was a literary decision, reached mutually by author and publisher.'"

          Forbes was interviewed recently on Australian radio and confirmed as much.

          • MH

            The last chapter is the solution and you are about the only person I have seen that disputes this. It strikes me as bizarre and a grasping at straws.

  • Lucy

    What struck me most about this movie, was how --- despite it's beauty and the skillful application of music and cinematography --- anti-escapist it was. It immediately reminded me of just how bizzare our shared existence is; we're on this spinning orb of matter in a vast, unimaginable expansion of space. Time is just a cutesy way that we measure things, as these pre-occupied little beings on Earth. But there's black matter and wormholes and light years' worth of time that our brains can barely get around. We live, we die and inbetween, we distract our selves from our mortality. If we dare to venture even a little beyond the realm of social routines, the human relationships we busy ourselves with and our seemingly secure measure of things on Earth, all that certainty falls apart.

    There is so much we will never know and there's nothing we can do about it. And once mysteries are lost to time -- once the last member of a generation passes away and from there on, we an only speculate and re-build artifacts -- they might be lost forever. And it might not even matter. If someone isn't there to care and retrieve lost memories and mysteries from time, did they ever really exist? As hard as it is to imagine spacetime and black matter bending light and time, is it any easier to imagine every, single life that has ever existed and has long since been forgotten to time? Think of the shot with the ants eating the cake, while the girls climbed the path, simultaneously happening. Like film, we can only pick out small moments in time and capture monetary snapshots of it, but life -- from cells to men -- is all happening at the same time and millions of different perspectives are examining their existence, at the same time.

    Even the film medium, itself, displays the strange quality of being able to catch the isolated experience of human beings and personalities in a moment; the magnetic blend that comes across as a spirit, as the essence of a life, in a way that no other medium can. What would happen if some kind of quirk or "wrinkle in time" throws all that off for a moment, maybe even an unmeasurable one by Earthtime, and everything we'd ever known about life, space and time, just wasn't compatible with that happening/phenomenon? What if we didn't even have the "tools" to dissect and understand it? "Some questions got answers; others don't".

    It really gets you thinking :).

    • Michael

      Thank you for an intelligent and poignant commentary on the story. I think Joan Lindsay would be very pleased with your thoughts.