Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) (PG)
Undoubtedly one of the oddest movies ever made, "Picnic at Hanging Rock" is set in the bush of Australia where mystical things can happen for no reason. On the backdrop of the turn of the 20th century, the movie involves a couple of girls who went missing at Hanging Rock (a real place in Australia) when they where having a day out.
An all girls' college decides that in honor of St. Valentine's Day, they should have a picnic. The college is ruled under the austere gaze of a certain Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts), who seems to believe that every girl should be pried out of the college's mold. The posterity of the characters and the facade of the movie is tangibly cheesy, which is in part what makes the film so odd. For "Picnic at Hanging Rock" is a coin and this is one of the most obvious two-sided movies. One side is the prim and proper, the lace and corsets. The other side is the unknown, the magical power that stops clocks at noon and puts everyone to sleep.
Both the most frustrating and gratifying aspects of the movie is the trust that Peter Weir places in his audience's hands. They are privy to things the characters are not; and we're smarter than anyone in the movie. We ask the questions that no one else does: why don't they just climb to the top of Hanging Rock? Does anyone else notice the identical wounds on two victims? Is there a way to reunite two siblings? etc.
On this holiday, the group of girls (minus one, who is being punished for not knowing all the stanzas to The Wreck of the Hesperus) are allowed to even take off their gloves once they get past the main town.
En route to Hanging Rock, they are captivated by the story of the place. Its history stretches back well over a million years when it was a volcano. The girls are given strict instructions not to climb the mountain because it is dangerous...but we all know that's a rule that no one is going to obey.
It takes only a few minutes of picnicking before three girls ask permission to go exploring and a fourth tags along with them. They are seen walking over to the base of the mountain by two boys who are from a different party.
Once near the mountain, they start to climb and soon succumb to the weirdest experiences. They all lie down and fall asleep in a geometric shape and then they all recede into the mountain. They make adult and pondering statements on life, as if drawn to Hanging Rock by a supernatural power.
Indeed, the ending of the movie is so ambiguous that it makes you feel annoyed at the whole movies; yet it also feels sensationally smart.
We keep returning to an image of one of the girls, Miranda (Anne Lambert) and the movie's cerebral and unashamed moments give us many visual metaphors ranging from Alice in Wonderland to white swans and back.
The biggest pill to swallow is that "Picnic at Hanging Rock" makes its audience feel smarter than the characters; but itself is much smarter than its audience. There is sure to be something in here, in fact, I'm almost sure of it; yet that does not mean that we can clearly see what it is. You get the feeling, after Mrs. Appleyard peers her head out the window and sees fowls pacing back and forth, that Peter Weir placed everything in this movie for a reason.
The eeriness, the borderline insanity, the cruelty, and the unexplained.
"Picnic at Hanging Rock" is a class act, because it feels like one. It cages a beast inside a corset; and for that, it will remain unforgettable and undeniable.
Shot with yellows and soft light, large white costumes fill out most of the screen. Colors are important here, as are hair styles. The slightest disheveled coif is evidence of the most marginal of character changes.
The score, the style, the aura—"Picnic at Hanging Rock" is sublime.
Posted by Micah Jones