Monday, 5 December 2011

Film Review: Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

'The Uncanny' takes a strange turn in Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock. The chief characteristic of this movie is that it has no genre. The very fact that it is so ambiguous means that it can have multiple interpretations. The message of this film differs from person to person.

Fig 1: Picnic at Hanging Rock Movie Poster

There are many sexual references in this movie with regards to the natural structures of rock that look too phallic for anyone's own good. The curiosity of young girls with regards to such structures and the Victorian concept of covering up a woman's body in the blistering heat. As Roger Ebert rightly states, it is "a film of haunting mystery and buried sexual hysteria." Ebert,Roger. (1998).RogerEbert.com.Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

Fig 2: The Phallic structures of Hanging Rock

The story revolves around a group of young girls from an Appleyard College for Young Ladies who venture out to a place called Hanging Rock for a picnic. A girl by the name of Miranda shares a room with another by the name or Sara. Sara is an orphan who adores Miranda and Miranda, although who is very fond of Sara in return, tells her to stop loving her as much as she does as she (Miranda) will not be there for long. Miranda gives of the impression of being somewhat of a psychic or ethereal being. She seems to see things that others are oblivious to. As reviewer Carlo Cavagna rightly states, "Just as there is something otherworldly about Hanging Rock, there is something otherworldly about Miranda herself. It's as if she, too, is the incarnation of some sort of elemental force." Cavagna, Carlo. (1999). AboutFilm.com. Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975)
As the party moves on to Hanging Rock, Miranda and three other girls venture out to explore the volcano that rests in the region. Edith (one of the three other girls) urges the rest to return to the party but they ignore her and keep exploring.
At this time, back with the rest of the picnic, the tutor's watch stops at 12 noon.
Later on the rest of the class return to the school with Miranda and the two others missing. Edith is questioned but is too shocked to remember what exactly happened.
Sara, who doesn't go for the picnic as she is advised by the headmistress to stay behind, begins to mourn the loss of her dear friend.
A search party is sent out by the police to retrieve the missing girls but the operation is in vain. Later, a young Englishman by the name of Michael goes out to look for the three girls with his valet Albert. He does so as he sees Miranda earlier and is attracted to her immense beauty and becomes determined to find her.
Fig 3: Miranda

Albert and Michael get separated as Michael ventures further towards the rock. Albert finds Michael by the paper markers that Michael leaves behind (in a very Hansel and Gretel style). He finds Michael distraught and in shock. As the doctors take him away, Michael leaves something in Albert's hand which is later revealed to be a piece of lace from one of the girls' clothing.
Albert goes back to the rock and finds Irma who is still alive but unconscious.
Michael keeps seeing visions of Miranda which are followed by the appearance of a Swan.
The news of the disappearance of the girls causes the parents of the other girls to get worried and they withdraw their children from the college.
The headmistress Mrs. Appleyard is in a financial predicament. She tells Sara that her guardian has not paid her fees in over six months and if that continues, then she will be forced to dismiss her from the school.
Sara then tells the maid that prior to coming to the school, she was in an orphanage where she was treated badly.
Later that night, Mrs. Appleyard tells Sara that she will be returned to the orphanage. The following day, at 12 noon, Sara is found dead in the greenhouse. She allegedly kills herself.
In the end, Mrs. Appleyard goes to the Hanging Rock. Her body is found at the foot of the mountain.
Fig 4: Michael

This film contains many takes on the functioning of the human mind. The effect that objects may have on people is strong. There are scenes in the movie where the rock 'speaks' to Michael and Edith, causing them to go crazy.
The constant appearance of the swans hints at the Aboriginal law of 'The Dreaming'. Even the heat, which is constantly brought up, could have caused the characters to have illusions due to dehydration. As Vincent Canby states ," The heat of the day is as much of a presence during the picnic as the rock formation that provides shadow for the group." Canby, Vincent.(1979).New York Times. Movie Review: Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975)

Bibliography and Illustration List:


Bibliography:

Canby, Vincent.(1979).New York Times. Movie Review: Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975) Available online at http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9F03E0D71639E732A25750C2A9649C946890D6CF (Accessed 5th December 2011)

Ebert,Roger. (1998).RogerEbert.com.Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) Available online at http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19980802/REVIEWS08/401010325/1023
(Accessed 5th December 2011)

Cavagna, Carlo. (1999). AboutFilm.com. Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975) Available online at http://www.aboutfilm.com/movies/p/picnichanging.htm (Accessed 5th December 2011)

Illustrations:

Fig 1: Weir,Peter.(1975).Picnic at Hanging Rock. http://sukisukivintage.blogspot.com/2010/09/my-top-ten-films-while-waiting-to-heal.html

Fig 2: Weir,Peter.(1975).Picnic at Hanging Rock.http://www.bonjourtristesse.net/2010/09/picnic-at-hanging-rock-1975.html

Fig 3: Weir,Peter.(1975).Picnic at Hanging Rock.http://goregirl.wordpress.com/2011/03/19/goregirl%E2%80%99s-top-10-favourite-horror-films-from-1975/

Fig 4: Weir,Peter.(1975).Picnic at Hanging Rock. http://www.coolhd.org/m-720p/284978-picnic-hanging-rock-1975-ndtn-2-72-gb.html

1 comment:

  1. "The curiosity of young girls with regards to such structures and the Victorian concept of covering up a woman's body in the blistering heat."

    "Miranda gives of the impression of being somewhat of a psychic or ethereal being. She seems to see things that others are oblivious to."

    Some great observations in this review, Urvashi - just watch the ratio of plot synopsis to critical analysis - you want a bit less of the former, and much more of the latter.

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