To this day, the mystery behind Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, an Australian Classic, remains… well, a mystery. Joan Lindsay, the novelist on who’s book the film is based, is one of the main reasons for all the ambiguity. Her descriptions left it unclear whether the film is based on facts, or is entirely a work of fiction! For all it’s hauntingly beautiful imagery, impeccable tonality, breathtaking treatment surrounding a discomforting subject, Picnic at Hanging Rock remains a great favourite of mine.
Here’s a synopsis:
“During a rural summer picnic, a few students and a teacher from an Australian girls’ school vanish without a trace. Their absence frustrates and haunts the people left behind.”
Web-based critic Kevin Maynard had said, “The film is just too damn impenetrable for its own good,” and it could not have been said better. It’s extremely hard to make a “mystery movie” that leaves just the right amount of questions unanswered. Peter Weir and his DP Russell Boyd make each frame look and feel like a painting. The entire incident could be perceived as a gorgeous, beautiful, hot, sunny day out…until it was. From start to end, the film is stunningly shot. At times, Weir uses close ups in slow motion. It’s an assurance, you will never forget these images. Never.
“We worked very hard at creating an hallucinatory, mesmeric rhythm, so that you lost awareness of facts, you stopped adding things up, and got into this enclosed atmosphere. I did everything in my power to hypnotize the audience away from the possibility of solutions.”, Peter Weir told Sight and Sound. Whenever I read about this film, I find it quite puzzling how not many (or not enough) people talk about the score. It’s the evocative score, in correlation with that stunning imagery and Weir’s direction, that makes this film what it is.
Joan Lindsay infamously “fuelled the fire” when it came to answering questions about the mysterious incidents that occurred at Hanging Rock during the 1900s. All of her descriptions about the story, leave loopholes. Obviously, these are intentionally left for your mind to run around in circles but I must say, there’s a beauty to that. According to a website, Lindsay made sure the final chapter of the novel only released after her death. In that she explains whatever remains answered. However, according to readers, her conclusions to the story are woven in an even greater ambiguity.
What a writer. What a film.