Picnic at Hanging Rock (1974)

In Film on December 23, 2005 at 10:06 am


Picnic at Hanging Rock is a hauntingly beautiful, ethereal, atmospheric film directed by Peter Weir, it left me desperately intrigued and mystified.

The premise: Valentine’s day, 1900 – A group of students and teachers from an upper-class all-girl boarding school went picnic at the Hanging Rock, a landscape attraction in Australia. Four girls and one teacher went up and never returned. The search party’s efforts were fruitless, until days later they found one of the girls unconscious at the top of the rocks, who later recovered but seems to have lost her memory of the incident. The disappearance haunted those remained: fellow students, headmistress, police, strangers. They mourned, speculated and questioned…what happened to the other girls? what really happened up there?


Yes it’s one of those frustrating stories where mystery remained unsolved in the end as solution was not the point. Were the girls abducted by the natives? ran away? group suicide? aliens? were they raped and murdered as the headmistress so keen on insisting? Maybe they merely fell into a hole somewhere up there and trapped inside the rocks? Or were there some kind of esoteric supernatural forces involved that many clues seemed to have suggested?

The Victorian all-girl boarding school setting totally got me hooked, it’s one of my favorite themes (reminded me of those 70s gothic horror Japanese girls comics inspired by ‘Suspiria‘) ^^;;; The girls dressed in beautiful lily-white virginal Victorian dresses, everyone looks so pure, delicate and doll-like. There’re lovely intimacy between the girls: a mix of girlhood romanticism, obsession and lesbian overtones. The central figure is Miranda, a very beautiful girl whom everyone loves. She has this mesmerizing angelic and other worldly quality, very beautiful~ She only appeared at the beginning before the disappearance and spoke little, yet her image lingered and loomed throughout the movie as if it’s possessed by her.

Fellow student Sara is a rebellion figure who’s not afraid to profess her love for Miranda (more than friendship or sisterly). She was devastated by Miranda’s disappearance. Sara has an antagonistic relationship with the strict, unforgiving and repressed headmistress that’d led to a devastating outcome.

There were loads of symbolism that gave the film a subliminal quality: the overbearing, looming rocks erected in phallic shapes; the swan (from Greek mythology); shoes, socks & corsets (garments of Victorian sexual repression) ; color white vs red (pure vs impure); Botticelli angel; clock that stopped…etc. They were to deal with the themes of puberty and sexual repression/liberation.

At the start of the film there’s a disclaimer saying this is a real incident. A lot of people believed it and searched for news archives. But from what I read it is all fiction (including the disclaimer itself).

Some of the quotes the girls said before they disappear that added on the esoteric and mystifying quality in the mystery:

Everything begins and ends at the exactly right time and place. A surprising number of human beings are without purpose, though it is probable that they are performing some function unknown to themselves.

(the rocks) Waiting a million years, just for us.

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

Perhaps this line in the film saids it all:

‘There’s some questions got answers and some haven’t.’

The version I watched is a director’s cut that has cut 8 minutes of footages! Those 8 minutes helped clarify the unexplained ending involving the headmistress and Sara at the end. errr….

The theme music is a new agey pan-flute piece that added-on the creepy, weird, other-worldly feeling but it is a little borderline Yanni-ish ^^;;;;

Here’re some good links to speculations and analysis:
Solution to PAHR (include summary of the Secret Final Chapter)
8 minutes of cut footage from original version
Informative site from Germany
Film Analysis
More Analysis

A deleted final chapter from the book that resolved the mystery

Pictures source from: here

  1. its a very good film. here in germany they called him “picknick at valentines day” 😉 i loved this old film.

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