Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) Poster

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Excellent director, immaculate film.
eshaun19 April 2003
Peter Weir is a master of taking the mysteries of human nature, combining them with the essence of humanity, then distilling those aspects through the inexplicable itself. This has been an earmark of his films "Dead Poets Society," "Fearless" and even "The Truman Show" but nowhere is this more apparent than with "Picnic At Hanging Rock."

Beautifully filmed in rural Australia, the plot of "Picnic At Hanging Rock" is deceptively simple: students at an upper crust Victorian-era girls' school go on a field trip to Hanging Rock --an unusual geographic site miles away from civilization. On the trip, three of the girls and one of the teachers go missing. A simple plot, right? Well, on the surface it is indeed simple, but the way Peter Weir deals with the subject matter will keep the viewer absolutely enthralled and at a loss as to the cause of the girls' inexplicable disappearance. What has frustrated many viewers is that the responsibility of the hypothesis lies solely on them: there are no conclusive answers, but rather a number of theories as seen through the eyes of second and third parties.

Additionally, Weir spices up the overall feeling of uncertainty with repeated images seemingly unrelated to the flow of the movie. Swans, ants, flowers, flies and poetry all appear repeatedly throughout the film, indicating that there is some deeper significance to the nature of the disappearance. Something that is just out of the viewer's grasp. In truth, Weir's direction in this film is akin to a more accessible and humanistic David Lynch. Much of the same thematic ground is covered, and the pronounced sense of uncertainty is a trademark of many Lynch films, especially his recent masterwork, "Mulholland Drive."

Finally, what makes "Picnic At Hanging Rock" a true marvel of filmmaking is the complete integration of all elements in the support of the ephemeral theme. The pan-flute of Zamfir adds an otherworldly element to the score; the cinematography makes Hanging Rock look alternately commonplace, and enigmatic, depending on the scene. This collusion of all elements makes "Picnic At Hanging Rock" essential viewing for anyone interested in immaculate emotive filmmaking. -E. Shaun Russell
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the unspeakable takes control
MissRosa28 May 2000
This is mesmerizing film with a cipher at its center. Less is more. I am amused at some of the comments. There seem to be two types: those which depict the movie as "beautiful, ethereal and subtle" and those which depict the film as "too symbolic, too slow, boring, too 70's."

The point is, there is no point. The central vision of the film is enigma, the void, mystery. This seems to make a lot of explainers uncomfortable, but the use of emptiness at the core of a work of art is nothing new. "The hand that erases writes the true thing" Faulkner's masterpiece "The Sound and the Fury" is about a character who is absent. The characters that surround her, and who actually people the novel? Not all there, lacking, disintegrating, unknown, unwanted, unloved.

If there must be a meaning, it is that nothingness is the biggest threat of all. "I will show you fear in a handful of dust" We fear our disappearance. We'd like to believe that our little lives, our little comments, our little film lists will endure forever. But they won't. Nothing will.

what is existence? a random ever-changing collection of energized particles.

At any point, we can cross the line into nothingness. Nature will subsume us.

The film "A Passage to India" had the same theme. It was NOT essentially a movie about rape or sex scandal. It was about the yawning pitch-black eternal emptiness of the caves. It drove two women mad. Nature as an amoral uncaring unmoveable eternal reality.

Just as Picnic was NOT about repressed Victorian sexuality. These were pretexts, and were utilized because the fear of sex is the fear of letting go. The fear of sexuality leads irrestibly to our main fear: that darkness, emptiness, and the powers of nature will overwhelm us and erase us.

In Picnic, there was no villain, no enemy, no fall guy, no perpetrator, process or predicament that we could blame for the girls' disappearance. They simply disappeared. And that is the scariest nightmare of all.
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A beautifully enchanting and haunting film
Filmtribute7 September 2001
Although the images have stayed with me since I first saw Picnic at Hanging Rock some 20 years ago, the power to instil a strange sense of loss remains. The revised director's version released in 1998 unusually cuts seven minutes from the original as, according to Pat Lovell (executive producer), Peter Weir wanted to remove any pretty romances and speed up the final act. The sound quality has been enhanced and the look improved through colour regrading, but sadly a couple of key scenes involving Irma (Karen Robson) have been omitted. We are told at the outset that some of those who start out for the St Valentine's Day picnic in 1900 are never to return, and, even though various clues are shared with us, no attempt is made to solve the puzzle. Miranda (Anne Louise Lambert), who provides a voice over, based on a poem by Edgar Allan Poe, sets the tone at the beginning with, `What we see and what we seem are but a dream, a dream within a dream', and the film goes on to concern itself with the aftermath of the disappearance and the impact on all involved with those missing. It explores an apparently idyllic way of life that is not what it first seems, how this false paradise is fragile and how it is shattered by the breakdown of established order. Tensions and hysteria all surface, exposing the suppressed passions that are the reality of life, as well as the claustrophobic atmosphere of the affluent Victorian European life style in an alien land. This theme is further expressed by the virginal white dresses worn for the picnic, which seem out of place in this environment and represent the stifling restrictions placed on the young women. The layers of dress and petticoats the girls have to wear, combined with the various shots into mirrors, as if into another dimension, also reflect the story's many strands.

Russell Boyd's award winning cinematography is stunning and actively encourages you to feel the summer heat. The beauty of the actresses and the sounds of the Australian bush, under the sinisterly foreboding gaze of the Rock, with its blatant phallic symbolism, seduce you so that you will more feel a sense of the horror, as Edith (Christine Schuler) does. The flashback at the end, poignantly coupled with the adagio from Beethoven's piano concerto No. 5 (Emperor), leaves you with a sense of loss of youth and virtue. Peter Weir subsequently recreated this impression in the final scene of his equally outstanding Australian feature `Gallipoli'. I am also reminded of the effect produced by Jane Campion (The Piano) in her early work `Two Friends', where the tale ends in the past when the friendship is at its closest, making the passing of innocence feel more painful with ageing and the passage of time.

Cliff Green's script is not only faithful to Joan Lindsay's narrative but also complements it exceedingly well, although dialogue is often replaced by visual impression and unnecessary details are excluded to maintain the sense of mystery the author intended. However, the novel's literary mistake regarding Felicia Hemanes' famous Victorian recital piece is repeated, which is actually `Casabianca' (about the Battle of the Nile) and not `The Wreck of the Hesperus' by Henry Longfellow. Discrimination is displayed by Mrs Appleyard (Rachel Robert's fantastically monstrous harridan) towards Sara (Margaret Nelson), a forlorn orphan in love with Miranda, who is kept back from the picnic for not learning the poem, whereas Irma's position as heiress obviously carries influence, as clearly on the Rock she can only quote the first line. Sara is shown pity by the housemaid, Minnie (Jacki Weaver), whose own sexuality is realised with the handyman, Tom (Tony Llewellyn-Jones), in stark contrast to the general ambience of repressed desire.

Miranda's sentiment that `Everything begins and ends at exactly the right time and place' is demonstrated by Joan Lindsay who based her fictional account on Hanging Rock, a sacred Aboriginal site, near Mount Macedon in Victoria. To provide added authenticity Peter Weir filmed at the Rock during the same six weeks of summer. Aborigines believe time is not linear and Lady Lindsay eschewed the notion of man-made time, hence the title of her autobiography `Time Without Clocks'. At Hanging Rock both the watches of Ben Hussey (Martin Vaughan) and Greta McCraw (Vivean Gray) stopped at twelve o'clock. Incidentally 14 February 1900 actually fell on a Wednesday, not a Saturday, unless the author used the Julian calendar instead of the Gregorian, so that the eleven days were not lost?

The open-ended nature of the fable is deliberate to mirror life where we may learn or uncover some secrets but never understand the mystery. Plenty of extraneous facts and unexplained details are related, such as the absence of scratches to Irma's bare feet, yet identical injuries appear on her head and Michael's (Dominic Guard), her joint rescuer with Albert (John Jarrett), very redolent of the `X Files'.

The film is beautifully shot with haunting music, exceptionally well cast and acted, and tightly directed. The ever excellent Helen Morse is an inspired choice as Mademoiselle Dianne de Poitiers, the French mistress and the girls' confidante, who describes Miranda as a Botticelli angel from the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence, and Peter Weir specifically uses the image of the Birth of Venus. In fact Miranda, Irma and Marion (Jane Vallis), the three senior boarders who vanish, are evocative of the Three Graces, who dance in attendance to Venus, in Sandro Botticelli's Primavera. Anne Louise Lambert's portrayal of Miranda (an ironic reincarnation from her famed role in 1973 as the bed-hopping nymphomaniac in the Australian soap `Number 96') captures the vision perfectly with her ethereal loveliness and enigmatic smile, and is reminiscent of the knowing look on the death mask of the renowned `L'Inconnue de la Seine', who coincidentally died around 1900 in Paris.

Picnic at Hanging Rock is a masterpiece of its time, and still rates as one of my favourite films today.
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Death and the Maidens
pocca8 May 2005
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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timhughes200030 April 2004
This film is magnificent! From the storyline, the settings, the atmosphere, the cinematography, the Victorian repression, the music throughout, the sense of the ordinary, the epic and the bizarre all clashing together to make something altogether superb from such disparate parts.

Whether it is supernatural, otherworldly, plain disappearances, a murder scene, or who-knows, no one ever really finds out. And what might seem important, might not be, and what might seem trivial might not be either! It is the imagination made reality on film, and the most dreamy and atmospheric film I have seen.

The fact that it is in Australia as well, at the turn of the century counts for a lot. The story in the movie could be read in countless ways; as symbolic of the horrors and hypocrisy of Victorian society; as a criticism of European ideals imposed on an alien landscape; as the end of one society, that of Victorian, to the beginnings of the modern world we all now live in. It is this that is the crux for me; the appearance of something new from something so old; the old landscape, the passing values of Victorian society, the passing values of class deference in English-speaking societies, and obviously Australia.

There is another thing that gets me about this movie; the down to earthness of Australians up against the bizarre and epic nature of an ancient landscape that refuses to be tamed.

There is for me a sadness in this film, and repression of every kind, but, somewhere, in tiny glints throughout the movie, the future is glimpsed when ordinary people can be free of such repression, and somewhere the story of Oz itself is in this movie. I don't know how or why, but it is! I think! Whatever, I love this movie and can't get it out of my head.
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Not a detective story
dr_faustus2 June 2004
I have experienced it several times that people tend to expect "Picnic at Hanging Rock" to unfold like a detective story, while it is not one, in any respect. This movie belongs to another type, to the mystery genre, and possibly stands as the finest example of a film of this kind. The main purpose of such films is to contemplate The Unknown and Peter Weir copes with that excellently. What counts most here is the atmosphere, and the focus is more on hidden emotions than on the pacing (some say that the problem with "Picnic" is that it's boring - i don't think so but I guess it depends much on your sensitivity and approach). Most fascinating thing here is possibly the way the Rock is depicted - it appears as self-conscious entity, alive in a sense which is beyond Western logic. This, I think, is the key aspect of the story, because what it really is about is the conflict between the Culture and the Nature. And don't let this put you off as 'too philosophical'. Picnic at Hanging Rock, while not being a crime story, can be involving as one - if you help this to happen, of course. If you do, you might have a lot to think about when the credits start to roll. It can happen, though, that you will be dying to see them roll - there are no movies that appeal to all of us. Then, at least, you could enjoy the set design, photography and ancient beauty of wild Australia.

Give it a try. It's worth it. 8/10
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Eerie, beautiful "romance porn".
Lanwench6 February 2000
I first saw PAHR while in high school, and it was the beginning of a long and drawn-out love affair with the film. The look, feel and sound of it drew me in at once, and the open-endedness of it appealed to my romantic teenage notions, striking me as being terribly, terribly profound. I searched out the book, and the sequel (both out of print in the US) and had a good long obsession over the film.

Years later, I still appreciate it deeply, but I realize now that if I were to see it for the first time today, I might not be quite so entranced. Yes, it is moody and beautiful, full of deliciously gossamar images, beautiful actresses, a haunting soundtrack, and a hypnotically slow and deliberate pace... but I can now see that it is a very youthful effort on Wier's part. It is decidedly a young director's film, firmly mired in the style of its era (the 70s). The heavy-handedness of the direction is evident in many ways, mostly in the repeated metaphors of Miranda as a swan, an angel, etc.... It has anachronistic costumes, makeup and hair, although the sets design is attractive and accurate enough.

However, let it be noted that the film is far more about symbolism and atmosphere than anything else, and on that front, it succeeds admirably. Among the highlights:

The repressed Victorian schoolgirls, whose burgeoning sexual longings are channeled into torrid, purple verse and close romantic friendships

The famous corset-lacing scenelet

The implied relationship between Mrs. Appleyard and the "masculine" Miss McCraw

The disappearance of only the "pure": Miranda (love), Marion (science), Miss McCraw (math), and the rock's rejecting Edith (gluttony), Irma (worldliness), and all men.

One might go on about the sexual imagery of the rock itself, with its monoliths and chasms, but I will refrain. Because after you've seen the movie, you realize how many times these things have been hammered into your head.

I still love this film dearly, despite the obviousness of it all. I wish that a soundtrack were available, as the original music is lovely. If you know a teenager, or are one, this is the movie for you. May your love affair with it go on as long as mine.
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If you're up for a free-form dramatization of the word 'unease'...
Cloten14 September 2001
I remember reading (God knows where) someone's shaggy-dog story about this film. Apparently, this individual had a friend (as people who tell these kind of stories tend to) who went to see 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' sometime in the mid 1970s. He was late, there was the inevitable confusion, and he consequently spent the next two hours whimpering in fear - waiting for the chainsaw-wielding assassin to appear and rip into a bunch of immaculately attired Edwardian schoolgirls.

This is probably as good an analogy as any for the sense of dread this film (fitfully) manages to accumulate. Watching it is like seeing weather systems build. Small increments appear, converge on other increments, circling each other ambiguously before merging into a grey, baleful mass that sits there on the horizon, making atmospheric noises. In 'Picnic...' the wind moves plangently through eucalypts, clocks tick, an orphan girl is the victim of snobbish behaviour, girls gossip, more clocks tick, the wind moves through more eucalypts, the clocks stop, something 'unspeakably eerie' happens, and that's pretty much it.

Ultimately, the film is about Peter Weir placing markers of European culture - corsets, watches, a locally built replica of an Eighteenth century English manor - in the vast, contoured, deeply ambivalent Australian hinterland, and letting his camera record the absurdity of those spatial relationships. His early twentieth century Australians anxiously encircle themselves with the accoutrements of civilization they've brought with them - its dress codes, its class politics, its architectural styles - as if shielding their bodies from the unfamiliar landscape outside. Yet their attempts to maintain a European identity by 'keeping up appearances' come off as merely obsessional.

The elaborate dresses the girls wear, the formalities observed at the picnic (and at a surreal dinner party set on a flat, sunblasted lake edge - a Seurat painting gone horribly wrong), far from being emblems that mark a cultural continuity unifying Australia with Europe, seem oddly fetishistic - deeply arbitrary. Weir's characters seem to sense this meaninglessness also; they're enervated, without conviction. They seem to realize that, in bearing items of European material culture within this new environment, they're merely in possession of a bunch of dead letters - signifiers rendered powerless (decontextualized) by distance. As more than one character remarks, 'it all looks different here'.

To add to the unease, Weir intercuts all this with shots of the landscape - huge, forested, confrontationally empty. There's a sense of something staring back, unimpressed, 'personified' by the oddly biomorphic shapes within Hanging Rock itself.

One can still feel the reverberations, twenty five years on. There are definite echoes of 'Picnic...' in 'The Piano', 'The Virgin Suicides', and the whole slew of films that erstwhile Antipodean Sam Neill rather dodgily categorises the 'Cinema of Unease'. If you really want to freak yourself out, try watching this and 'The Quiet Earth' in the same sitting. You may never feel absolute faith in your ties to the physical universe again.
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I Recommend For Those Who Love Subtle, Beautiful Movies
Bacall-314 January 1999
The plot is simple on one level: A group of girls at a private school, growing up and experiencing the throes of adolescence angst. On a much more subtle level, there is an indefinable presence.... Is it a spectre? Or are the girls' over-active imaginations causing them to believe that sinister things are happening around them, especially at Hanging Rock? (a nearby scenic landmark with a possible secret).

The beauty of the film is its softness, and how effectively it is used to convey horror by its SILENCE...The costumes of the period and the music are lulling, as is the beautiful sometimes soft-focus cinematography.One is unprepared for the lingering chill in the room as the movie ends. There are also the lingering doubts: What really happened at Hanging Rock? Each viewer is left to decide... **NOTE: This is not an action adventure, not a typical horror or mystery. I cannot fit it into any one category, ART is the most likely, although it is certainly dramatic. I doubt very much that many men I know would want to watch this, so forewarned..it is not for the action-adventure crowd.
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great film
curator_1341011 October 2004
Picnic at Hanging Rock is a masterpiece of psychological fiction in which we see an awful thing happen from a great distance and are only given enough clues to guess at what happened to the missing girls. Excellent cinematography and a musical score perfectly chosen both of which become Weir trademarks first appear in this film. They are clearly missing in the Cars that Ate Paris his first full length film. Though many people have offered suggestions both realistic and absurd as to what happened to the ladies, everything but Dingo attacks have been suggested, we are kept in the dark on purpose. The novel that the film was based on suggested, almost as an afterthought, that the story might be true. This claim was as much a fiction as the rest of the novel.

The site, Hanging Rock, is identified with a mythic highway man and all the things we observe happening have elements of the supernatural. The people as in many Weir films communicate the most critical ideas with out talking. A significant plot development in this film, we hear thoughts..see people moving on ward as if drawn towards their doom, but Weir never bothers us with needless Dialog..how much weaker would the plot be if we heard Miranda calling to her companions "follow me, we must reach the top." It is also critical to the developing sense of spirituality and intuitive communication we see in Gallipoli and Witness.

Finally, if we knew what happened to the girls, any speculation about the fate of those at the school would be moot. The mystery explains the accusations by the girls, parents and staff and the eventual downfall of most who worked there.

Those who do not like the film fail to see it as an Aussie Gothic film as innovative in its day as Wuthering Heights was in its.
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The scariest picnic ever!
SrCAPnCDLvl9923 January 2004
Warning: Spoilers
It'd been quite some time since I last saw Picnic At Hanging Rock, but as soon as I heard that haunting Pan flute it all came back to me and I felt the goosebumps covering my skin once again. This film still has that level of quality to it, and I still consider it one of my absolute favorite films of all time.

As soon as you push that tempting Play button on your remote control as you're watching the Criterion Collection release of this film, you're thrown into a dream that starts as a fantasy but quickly turns into a nightmare as those girls disappear at hanging rock. You know that they're going to and there's nothing you can do to stop it...

I have discovered that most people speak of this film as drama, or maybe something in the line of an art film, which is funny to me as I've always seen it as a horror film. I mean, this film is really scary. Those girls disappeared and noone ever knew what happened to them. I remember thinking of this film as I saw The Blair Witch Project back in 99. Those kids also disappeared in the middle of the woods, only; in that film, you saw what happened to them, something that remains a mystery in this. That's what makes it so great.

It has to be told though, that the film does lose it's pace a bit towards the end as all the scenes are centered around the Appleyard school and leaving out on the mysterious Rock, but that is when the Pan flute is reintroduced, which keeps you in the meditative state you've been lulled into during the course of the film. There's so many scenes that you'll end up thinking about for hours to figure out what they really meant, only to come out empty handed, or possibly with a headache as a result. For instance: I've never understood the importance of the brother & sister link between the kids form the orphanage. If a film touches you in the way that this film does, you can't help but giving it the highest of praise and the 10/10 rating that it truly deserves. This is Peter Weir's one, and unfortunately only, true masterpiece as of yet; a film you must see before you leave the face of the earth and vanish into that dark shadowy place beyond; running into your very own Hanging Rock.
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Pre-Raphaelites in Australia
paul2001sw-119 June 2003
In Peter Weir's film, "Picnic at Hanging Rock", a party of upper class schoolgirls and their teacher go missing. Among the vanished is Miranda, an artistic, angelic, sapphic and telepathic young woman. The film offers no explanations but concentrates on the psychological effect of Miranda's departure on her erstwhile companions. But this is not a strictly realistic film either: with a stylised, dream-like aesthetic, one imagines it as the sort of film Miranda herself would have enjoyed. In form it resembles Antonioni's L'Avventurra, though less subtle and (thankfully) also less boring. But when everything about the missing girls (not just their disappearance) is left beautiful and mysterious, a hole inevitably opens up in the middle of the film. A little more humanity, and a little less divinity, in their portrayal might have made it possible to care about their loss.
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Dreamlike? Ambiguous? Obtuse? Yes, yes, yes... does that make a good film?
nathan-6326 July 2002
I'd say no.

The movie looks pretty. Some of the acting is good but at other times is way over the top. I did not find the movie suspenseful or scary and I'm not sure why anybody would, although some people seem to.

Roger Ebert and Peter Weir (both people who liked this film) sum it up nicely.

Ebert describes it as a film that is "free of plot" That it is a film that doesn't have any final explanation and exists only as an "experience"

Weir says that he worked very hard to have the audience lose awareness of the facts. He did everything he could to hypnotize the audience away from thinking that there might be a solution.

So if you watch this film you should NOT try to figure it out. Realize that it's NOT really a mystery and there is NO answer. If you try and apply any logic or reason to the film, you'll find yourself being frustrated. If you want to see it, expect a film "experience" but don't expect a clear story, realistic characters or a plot.

I found the film to be long, slow and plodding. The point where the three girls disappear is probably the best moment in the whole film, as somebody else noted, but one brief moment of entertainment in an otherwise ambiguous film is not enough.

I watched it thinking that it was a mystery. I watched the characters do odd things (like falling into fits of apparently simultaneous-narcolepsy) and thought to myself "What the heck was that?". I tried to use logic to piece together things that people did and said.

I obviously went into this film with wrong expectations. I thought there'd be a plot, I thought there'd be a mystery. I should have read Ebert and Weirs' comments prior to watching the film and I'd realize that there is no plot and that the director didn't want you to even think for one moment that there was the possibility of an answer. It is a film that is intentionally obtuse.

If you're looking for a dreamlike escapade or something to soothe you to sleep then perhaps this film is for you.

PS: This film is NOT based on any true events any more than The Blair Witch Project is. Search the internet for more information and educate yourselves.
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"There's some questions that has answers, and others don't."
rmax3048233 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
What a movie. Australia started come out with films that received worldwide attention in the early 1980s, with "The Last Wave", and a cascade of them has followed, from the raucous "Mad Max" to more contemplative issues. And on top of that, they've been putting out a horde of toothsome blonds, from Olivia Newton John to Nicole Kidman. GOOD ON YA, MATE! When it comes to magnificently featured blonds, Anne-Louise Lambert, as Miranda, will serve in "Picnic at Hanging Rock." It's true she's a bit tender, only in her mid-teens like the other girls at Mrs. Appleyard's (Rachel Roberts') expensive boarding school in rural Victoria. But the fact is that the film is full to the brim with budding but repressed sexuality -- repression of all kinds, in fact, with all that strict discipline and formality. Even one of the other students seems to have a crush on Miranda. So blame Joan Lindsay and Cliff Green, the writers, instead of my own admittedly warped interests.

All is not well at the Appleyard School. The continent at the time was nothing much more than an English outlier and the school has imported its parent culture wholesale -- the strict class system, everything. It's already old fashioned. And it's feeling the financial pinch too.

All Mrs. Appleyard needs is some kind of scandal, and that's what happens. The girls go on a picnic to nearby Hanging Rock, a jagged jumble of bushes and gray boulders with stucco textures sticking up out of nowhere. A handful of girls, including Miranda, decides to climb to the top. A plump whiny girl follows and when she tires she loses contact with the others. Panic -- in self-disciplined British style -- follows when the other four fail to return. A search is implemented. Bloodhounds, aboriginal trackers, but there is no trace of the girls.

After a day or two, one girl is finally retrieved in an unconscious state and brought back to the school. She's out of it because of exposure and shock, but she is at least "intact", as the doctor puts it, although there is some mystery about why her shoes and stockings are missing, and why she isn't wearing the corset that is part of the girls' uniforms. No trace of the others is ever found. The affair effectively brings about the end of Mrs. Appleyard and her boarding school.

Not much of a story, is it? A couple of girls go missing from a school and that's that. Not a drop of blood in sight. Not a single motorcycle roar within hearing. And yet the film seems pregnant with a sense of languorous dread, of something that is not quite right -- cockeyed, off kilter. We can sense it from the very beginning, with a score drawn from the deep chords of an organ and from Zamphir's Peruvian nose flute or whatever it is. When there is no music on the sound track we can hear the buzzing of flies or the soft growls of wind about the stone mansion.

Why, when Miranda is leaving for the picnic, does she tell another that she's not coming back. And after all, what DID happen to those missing girls? Applause for director Peter Weir and for others of his ilk, like Nicholas Roeg, who have the courage to put out a movie that isn't all hustle and bustle, that takes care to establish an atmosphere that is almost a character in itself, that lingers over the contrast between elegant, lacy civilization and the indifferent implacability of nature's raw rocks.

Everything begins and ends at the right time and place, one of the characters insists repeatedly, and the world of movies have a place for films like this that challenge and mystify rather than just tickle your glands.
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Charming by Watching
tedg3 September 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

Australians pride themselves on being direct, but Australian cinema is anything but. It is one of the most engaging trends in film today and -- so far as I can tell -- we first see it here. Actually we first see an inkling in "Walkabout,: a film set in Australia but by a Brit. It conflated constructed realities, Aboriginal mysticism embedded in the environment, and adolescent sexual awakening as metaphor for narrative awareness,

That film made overt negative comment on the (then popular) Italian philosophy of film as stories embedded in characters.

This is very much the same film, except the conceptual distance between it and "Walkabout" is the same as between "Walkabout" and "Amarcord." It is a remarkably sophisticated idea: to create a drama with essentially no story arc, where the characters are not prime movers but elements of the environment -- where sex has less to do with panting and ejaculation and more with universal intimacy, what we see and some unnamed yearning that we all recognize.

This is a film that changed the world, but my own theory is that it reflects rather than leads a larger awareness among Australian artists. And that all comes from one or two teachers at the Opera House, which in turn was awakened by the implied hidden forms in the design of that structure.

The idea is that film is not a play, that what you experience is not what the players show -- instead what they help you show yourself in your imagination. We can see this in the folded acting of Winslet and Kidman, in the projection into the next scene of Crowe. In the several mystical spaces of secrets Blanchett ephemerally sustains.

Many films along these lines fail, I'm thinking of Gillian Armstrong, Sally Potter and Jane Campion. Even this film is not widely admired and Weir himself evolved into "message" films. But thanks to Australia and New Zealand we have a particular approach to film that is cinematic. It tussles for control over our imagination with other memes in film: the Hollywood "film as play," the British "film as set," the Italian "film as characters," the Swedish "film as visited angst," the Hong Kong "film as ballet,"

What we have here in the Australian entry is closer to the Japanese "film as means to abstraction whereby one purifies reality by alert immersion."

One trick that I particularly appreciate is the focus on reading and how that is tied to what we think are clues to the mystery. We see a teacher in the wild reading a geometry text. We see the geometry text clearly; the camera dwells on a particular graphic which in a British/Hitchcock film means: "pay attention, here is something that will be important later on." Then we switch to an overhead shot of the girls in trance on a rock. They are carefully arrayed. This is a staged scene, which obviously relates to the drawing in the book. Subconsciously that part of our mind that is tracking the mystery is racing ahead. Simultaneously, that part of our eye that makes sense of patterns is puzzled.

None of this is ever closed and that makes the effect much more powerful. Not only was the clue never resolved, the hands holding it disappeared -- as if we charmed the scene into mischief by our watching.

Ted's Evaluation -- 4 of 3: Every cineliterate person should experience this.
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This picnic tastes great but is unfulfilling.
tommythek26 July 2001
Confession: I don't know WHAT I think of this movie! Not only that, I had to go to IMDb's user comments to find a person or persons to TELL ME what I think of this movie. None did. I read all 45 of the user comments (reviews) and I STILL don't know what I think of this movie. That's how enigmatic this movie is. To me, anyway.

I did learn one thing, however, from reading these 45 preceding user reviews. A very great many of these user-reviewers are some of the keenest and most astute moviegoers whom I've ever encountered. They know things about this movie and have picked up things from it which are completely over my non-perceptive head.

Example: One user-reviewer, an English gentleman, I believe, obviously did his doctoral thesis on this movie. He knows things about it that even Peter Weir (the director) doesn't know. A number of others did their masters on it. Many of the latter refer to Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert), one of the girls who disappeared, in terms of her being a sort of virginal Botticelli-like angel. While I do agree that Miranda is a most ethereal character, whenever she would appear in a scene, "Botticelli" was not the first word to jump into my mind. But that's just me.

Much is made by many of these perceptive and sharp user-reviewers of the girls' awakening feelings of sexuality and of the phallic symbolism of Hanging Rock to the girl climbers. Oh. I was just wondering: Where'd the girls go? What happened to them?

One of the many puzzling aspects to the story of this movie, one on which no one seems to agree, is.....is it true? At first I thought it was. Then I thought it wasn't. Now, I have no idea! And the user-reviewers are of no help on this, politely at odds amongst themselves on the story's veracity. I'd like to believe that the movie and novel which preceded it are based on a true incident. No, not because I would wish anything bad to have happened to these adventurous, yet innocent, young girls some 101 years ago. I wish it were true only because it would be but one more "event" to add to the great mystery that we know as life. A mystery, a question, to which no one has the answer.

Listen to me! I sound like I know what I'm talking about. Which I don't! Especially about this movie. In the final analysis, this movie left me generally unfulfilled. There is much in it that is worthy of praise, first and foremost the moviemaking skills of Peter Weir. But when credits rolled, something was missing. I felt as if I'd just eaten a delicious Thanksgiving dinner, having enjoyed every single bite, then, upon arising from the table, felt my stomach completely empty. A feeling stranger than strange.

Anyone viewing this film for the first time must be prepared for a movie in which all the various and loose plot ends do NOT get all tied up by the film's denouement. If one is so prepared, one may come away from it more fulfilled than was I. "Tastes great," unfortunately, was as far as I could get with it.

One sad note: At the movie's conclusion, Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts) arrived at a fate not much unlike one arrived at by Ms. Roberts herself just five short years after the movie's release. Just as art often imitates life, so, too, in this case, did life imitate art.
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Helen of Troy as a Young Girl or "Everything begins and ends at the exactly right time and place"
Galina_movie_fan31 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
It is easy to describe the film without giving too much away. Its plot summary tells you exactly what happens:

"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."

Peter Weir in his early film skillfully moves from the recognizable intimate world of the girls' school filled with poetry and high neck dresses, corsets and the mutual crushes to a pagan environment in which "modern" principles and standards have no meaning and no values.

If we assume that the movie does not belong to the straight realism genre but to the "magical" or "mythological" realism, a lot of things would make sense. We may never find out what exactly happened to the girls and their teacher but it would not matter - we could guess. I see this movie as Miranda's story. The girl of such beauty, charm, and charisma simply could not exist in this world for long time. She seemed to know or to feel it when she told her friend Sarah, "You have to learn how to love someone else because I am not going to be here for long time". I've read many times that this is a movie about sexual repression and I would not say that I completely disagree but I think that it has many interpretations, and with its open end and the mystery still present after all these years, any explanation is possible. During their ascend to the Hanging Rock and the noon day nap, the girls and especially Miranda don't seem repressed or unhappy; on the contrary, they are in the state of content and bliss. I'd say that they were longing for something miraculous to happen and I did not feel the presence of menace or nightmare luring through the trees and ready to materialize in the still hot air and swallow them.

I think that Miranda with her golden hair and ethereal beauty was reincarnation of the young Helen of Troy. At that day, February 14 1900, two parallel worlds came as close to each other as possible and there was a window inside the Hanging Rock. One was the turn of the 20th century Victorian world with its restrictions, rules, and laws of what is proper and not and another- the ancient world of the Greek Gods that used to rule the Heaven , Sea, Earth, and Underworld and sometimes, would kidnap the mortal women of immortal beauty. You'd ask "What? Why"? I say, how about the Flute de Pan, the instrument that was first invented by the God of Nature, Pan and which hypnotizing sounds lead the girls inside the rock? The Gods knew that Helen's beauty could destroy the countries and be merciless killing force for many men. They did not stop it thousands years ago from happening - they decided to do it on the Valentine day, 1900. They took Miranda -Helen and I hope they sent her to the Island of Blessed Spirits where she is happy and where "even the highest flying birds of memory could not reach her."

You know, I wish the film stopped right after the disappearance. As much as the further scenes involving the search for the girls and their teacher, the sad and heartbreaking Dickensian tale of an orphan Sarah, and the story of the "iron lady", Mrs. Appleyard are interesting and compelling, they seem strangely unnecessary - they don't add anything to the Miranda's vanishing. The movie is about eternal beauty and femininity, their rarity and impossibility to reach and to own them. The social aspects would work perfectly in another movie, not in this one. Anyway, first thirty minutes of "Picnic at Hanging Rock" are perfection, beauty, and unbearable sensual delight that I've not seen or experienced very often in the movies. I'd rate first 30 minutes – 10+, the rest of the film – 7.5.
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"(The rock) Waiting thousands of years, just for us!"
chaos-rampant14 October 2009
I love movies that can be appreciated intuitively on different levels without necessarily shifting into "woo! symbolisum" mode. Where the different possibilities for meaningful interpretation are left at the perimeter of the mind's eye never to be fully rationalized, hazy and elusive but nagging the viewer with a presence that can be felt, like glimpses through the shifting rents in a thick fog, bits of vivid and vanishing detail giving no connected idea of the general aspect but suggesting a vague outline. When Miss McCraw speaks about the volcanic rock they're visiting ("quite a recent eruption really, only a million years old. silicious lava forced up from deep below"), I can't shake off the impression that she's talking about the formation of something other than rocks, that it has nothing to do with the rock itself but something antediluvian and portentous like the 'evil came into the world' story narrated to Laura Dern by the old lady in Inland Empire.

The mystery of the disappearance of the two girls and their teacher is never allowed to be drawn to the arena of the conscious mind to be subjected there to the laws of reason. It lays there like a gaping black hole threatening to devour everything in the small Australian community. A question left unanswered threatens the stability of the town, as though the mystery of the missing girls is an affront to each of them personally and an indictment on civilized man collectively. The unspeakable remains unspeakable. With theories springing up among the townfolks to explain it (a lot of them indicating violence, suggesting rape, or worse), we can see the formation of taboo in society out of pure unblemished innocence.

What I like most about it though is the mythical symbolism Weir uses in painting a picture of pure innocence (the girls reciting poems of love in their dorm and getting ready for the picnic) before sending it off to an ethereal otherworldly doom. The girls disappear inside the rock without violence or force, seemingly out of their own will, as though in trance or seduced by the rock itself. It reads like a modern parable of some ancient creation myth. All things enter the world pure and innocent but inadvertently have their innocence corrupted by the knowledge of that world. "All things end at the right time".

Despite what the unresolved ending to which the movie owes its reputation would suggest, it's not the fleeting meaninglessness of life, but a sense of teleological fatalism I get from Picnic. "Waiting thousands of years, just for us!".
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A beautiful snore-fest
t-verhaege7 February 2019
I can see why some people would described this as haunting, sensual, hynoptic and so on.

They will find with delight deep meaning in it. A profound philosophical reflection about man and nature or the colonisation of Australia by the British perhaps.

And perhaps they are right, but at the end of the day, there is only one unforgivable sin for movies. It's to be boring. And as beautiful as it is, this movie is incredibly boring.
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left Hanging after the Picnic
RoLaren22 June 2000
Words like "haunting", "lyrical", "creepy" crop up in most of the reviews of this film. The premise sounded promising: schoolgirls disappearing in the Outback at the site of sinister rock...

I've sat through--and liked--most of the Merchant-Ivory films, been a fan of David Lean for years, so my attention span is pretty tolerant, however...endless shots of rocks & foliage (no matter how beautifully photographed), assorted creepy-crawlies, an ominous soundtrack and lots of drawn-out pauses do not constitute a film.

I was looking forward to watching this film (I rented the "director's cut" on video), having heard much about it over the years, but I was left feeling like I'd attended a beautiful banquet in which most of the food turns out to be props.

In addition to the lack of substance, the film is marred by stagy moments such as "Mademoiselle" staring after Miranda (one of the schoolgirls) and comparing her to a Botticelli angel; another schoolgirl looking down on her companions from above and commenting (while staring off into the distance in the manner long ago deemed appropriate for a Soliloquy) on the insignificance of humans; scenes with characters who lend nothing to the plot or atmosphere (the servant couple at the school, for example) and very bad wigs (Rachel Roberts' in particular).

I didn't find any of the "horror" promised and most of the suspense I experienced came from wondering when SOMETHING was going to happen. What a disappointment. What a waste...
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Purposefully vague...yet even on that level it is half-realized
moonspinner5511 July 2001
This Peter Weir drama is so languid and low-keyed, art-house lovers are always tempted to pass it on as an automatic masterpiece (witness the 1,000+ people on this board who gave it a 10). Plot concerns three turn-of-the-century schoolgirls who disappear along with their teacher while on a field trip with their class in the Australian Outback. Film takes a very odd approach: it wants the mystery to be unexplainable, yet all the while drops little clues along the way. It has a sinister atmosphere that eventually gives way to irritation because nothing is ever done with the trappings of the premise. It's a striking film visually but not verbally, as the line-readings of the young girls are rather monotonous (possibly on purpose). Weir shows a great gift for visual communication, however his narrative suffers in the process. As a result, that beautiful, haunting final shot ends up not meaning much and "Picnic At Hanging Rock" leaves its audience swatting at red herrings. **1/2 from ****
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Go watch the grass grow instead.
hobe-307-7135913 March 2012
This is one of the most dull and poorly made films that I've ever seen. I can't believe that I actually made it through the whole thing. The film fails to build drama and fails to create interesting characters. It has overbearing music that makes the painfully slow pace of the movie even worse. The idea for the story has some real potential, but I don't think someone could make a less interesting film given the general outline of the story that structures its content. I realize that this film has many fans, but I honestly can't imagine what the basis would be for enjoying this film. I guess some people are determined to find beauty and intriguing mystery where they don't exist. If you value your time at all, please skip this film.
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Film and book not factually based
PaulDForrestLA9 April 2003
Part of the mystique of this very excellent movie is the suggestion that the book is based on real events. Unfortunately, like the film Fargo, the suggestion of actual events as the basis for either film is only a device to make the story more interesting. The unresolved disappearance of students while on a field trip would undoubtedly make national headlines, but despite much research done on newspaper and police archives of the time and area, there is simply no evidence that the events depicted happened. This may come as a disappointment to some, as we all like a bit of mystery and romance in our lives.
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Heavily disappointed.
Amyth4728 April 2019
My Rating : 1/10

How do I approach a movie which is so well received yet is so deceptively unrewarding?

'Picnic at Hanging Rock' has breathtaking cinematography, good background score, the costumes and settings are on-point but -- there's definitely something lacking to bring it to a higher level of poignancy and mystery it deserves because everything else seems to be in perfect harmony otherwise.

It's the characters. The performances are weak and pretentious and lacks conviction. The film's deeper meaning is non-existent inspite of all the atmospheric dreaminess.

Please don't waste your time on it. This film is one of the most BORING films I have ever seen.
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The collapse of the old order.
lee_eisenberg7 January 2006
Most people remember Peter Weir's "Picnic at Hanging Rock" for for its almost horrific plot: an all-girl's school in Australia goes on a picnic on Valentine's Day, 1900, and all but one girl disappear without a trace. But it seems that there is a metaphor here: the collapse of the old order. What I mean is: after the disappearance, the oppressive school gets a lot of bad PR and is forced to shut down and headmistress Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts) withdraws from the public eye. By oppressive, here's an example: while driving out to Hanging Rock, when they reach a certain point, the girls get to take off their gloves. As for the frequent theme of communication issues in Australian, here it never gets communicated what happens to the girls. All that I can say is: be prepared to get unnerved by this movie.
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