Three students and a school teacher disappear on an excursion to Hanging Rock, in Victoria, on Valentine's Day, 1900. Widely (and incorrectly) regarded as being based on a true story, the movie follows those that disappeared, and those that stayed behind, but it delights in the asking of questions, not the answering of them. Written by
David Carroll <email@example.com>
One of two films directed by Peter Weir that features a character reciting Shakespeare's "Sonnet 18" with the other film being Dead Poets Society (1989). While the 1989 film revolves around a boys' school, this one is centered on a girls' school. See more »
Modern foundation garments are seen quite clearly through the girls white shirts in many places when the camera trails behind them as the move about the rock. See more »
What we see and what we seem are but a dream, a dream within a dream.
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Even though this has been described as a film about sexual repression (and Peter Weir may have thought he was making such a film), I don't think it is--rather, it is a celebration of the dreamy, self contained sexuality (or rather pre-sexuality) of young adolescent girls just before they seriously turn their attention to men. Sure, they may be living in a society straitjacketed by Victorian mores, but the girls really don't seem to be the unhappier for this, non withstanding the earthy maid's comments that she feels sorry for them. Miranda and her friends seem completely content and at ease in their languid, hothousey world of poetry, pink and white bedrooms, and mutual crushes (I was reminded of the similarly dreamy, self contained little universe of the sisters in "The Virgin Suicides--another film that is supposedly about repression). During the noon day nap at Hanging Rock, the girls, heads resting in one another's laps, are in a state very much resembling post coital bliss--far from seeming repressed, they are among the most content women I've ever seen on screen. It is quite arguable that Victorian morality had something to do with their sexuality turning inward like this, but all this does is lend credence to the truism that repression intensifies sexuality--which may explain the lingering fascination the Victorian era has for the modern age, and why one of its most striking symbols of its oppressiveness--the corset--is also very erotically charged. The girls' disappearance into the eerie black land form (that seems to have faces at times, bringing to mind fairy tales about trolls who steal golden haired children) suggests that at in their present state they are so contented that anything else life might hold for them could only be a letdown, that only whatever dark force (death? nothingness?) is haunting Hanging Rock could possibly be a worthy enough lover for these girls who are already so supremely self fulfilled.
There are, unfortunately, aspects of this film that don't work, or rather jar with the elements discussed above, the most prominent of these being the Dickensian subplot of the persecuted orphaned pupil Sarah. The actress herself is affecting in her part and her boyish beauty contrasts well with Miranda's ethereal femininity (she looks like a young Renaissance prince at times), but her story really belongs in another movie because at heart "Picnic at Hanging Rock" is more Gothic than socially conscious.
Maybe Weir really was aiming to make a movie about the evils of sexual repression, class inequality or even colonization, but such possible themes are blown away by the languid, ethereal images of the young adolescent girls at the beginning of the film, floating contentedly through their hours like clusters of Monet lilies.
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