Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

Fig 1: Poster
Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) is a drama and mystery film. The movie tells the story about Three students and a teacher disappearing at Hanging Rock without a trace. In 1900, on Valentine's Day two teachers and a small group of students of Appleyard College, a private girls' boarding school in Australia set off to have a picnic at Hanging Rock, while the headmistress and Sara (a student) stay behind. Meanwhile, the group of young girls and teachers peacefully sitting at the foot of the Rock, four students, Miranda Irma, Marion and Edith decide to climb the rock and explore the area. Three of the girls, with the exception of Edith seem to be hypnotised by the rock as they climb higher and higher; Edith runs back to the group hysterically screaming, leaving the three others on the rock. Late that night, the group returned to the school, terrified and crying, informing the headmistress that three students and one of the teachers have gone missing. Despite the days have spent searching for the missing people, no one has found anything, until one of the two young men (who have seen the girls before their disappearance) find Irma, laying unconscious, but alive at the rock. Irma was to only one returning after days, but had no recollection of what had happened, fuelling the already ongoing hysteria at the school. As the result of the missing case, the schools reputation has damaged and numerous parents withdraw their children from attending next term, clearly affecting the headmistress and later resulting in the death of Sara. At the end the disappearance and what have happened remains unanswered.
Fig 2: Miranda, Marion, Edith and Irma
The film is an adaptation of Picnic at Hanging Rock (1967) a novel by Australian author John Lindsay, which was believed for a very long time (some still believe) that the story is or was based on real life events. The story's plot is the disappearance, however, the film focuses on the aftermath of the case and how it has affected the others. What is well known about this movie (and the novel too) that there is no explanation at the end of what happened to the girls or teacher, which most audience member may find frustrating; a mystery that we never get the answer to. Stated by Chris Cabin in an article "The vanishing of these women is central to the plot, but Weir's film is never as fascinated with the reasons for this absence as it is with the characters left in its inexplicable wake. Cliff Green's script, adapted from Joan Lindsay's novel of the same name, never goes about teasing what could have happened to these women at Hanging Rock, instead focusing on the wild cupidity that erupts in the surrounding community in reaction to the mystery." (Cabin, 2014)
Fig 3: Last sight of the disappearing girls
For a big part of the film, the audience is aimed to look at the girls, they are presented in such a way that suggest sexuality, as it would be expected from girls in their late teen years. The camera, shows them in angles that are not too obvious, but the viewers definitely get a sense of a slight and sort of hidden sexual tension. As said by Megan Abbott "From its beginning, Picnic is about watching, looking, about the gaze itself. The film opens with shots of the schoolgirls all peeping at one another, through mirrors, doorways, and we—through the camera’s voyeuristic intrusion into the girls’ toilettes, their private worlds—are peeping at them." (Abbott, 2014) There are numerous hints that the film might show the effect of a mysterious disappearance, but subtext of the movie is said to be 'turning into adults' or gaining a 'secret' and leaving the innocent 'childhood' behind. A scene that shows exactly this is when Irma, the only one of the missing girls who have returned, is saying farewell to her classmates, and is about to start a 'adult' life, moving to the big city of New York. She wears a strong red cape, which represents that she is no longer 'innocent', that she knows the secret, while all the other girls wear white, still not knowing the answer. "In one of the film’s most famous scenes, Irma, the “one who came back” but remembers nothing, is bidding good-bye to her classmates, her scarlet hat and cape seeming to mark her as one with erotic knowledge, one who has “passed over” and yet withholds the secret understanding they all seek as their own. " (Abbott, 2014)
Fig 4: Irma in red
One character who stands out from all the others is Miranda. The camera often lingers on her, highlighting her beauty and giving her an almost dreamlike appearance. It is also very noticeable that most characters are affected by her, and she plays lots of part in their lives. After the disappearance, she is the one who gets the most attention and everyone is seemingly only concerned about her whereabouts. Stated in an article "Right before Miranda and three of her classmates go wandering up Hanging Rock, their mistress, Mademoiselle de Poitiers (Helen Morse), eerily declares that Miranda is a Botticelli angel. One would likely assume that it's merely a reference to her physical beauty, but she's also alluding to Miranda as a figment of imagination..." (Cabin, 2014) She is seen as a creation of the mind, like she is not real or is from another world, or as if she is embodying sexual desire. Miranda often appears to have a knowledge no one else has, as it seems like she knew exactly what is going to happen, (telling Sara right before she gone missing forever, that she will not be here for much longer). Sara, who has idolised her roommate Miranda, said to the principal  Mrs. Appleyard “Miranda knows lots of things other people don’t know.
Fig 5: Miranda
Lastly, the environment is represented as if is alive. In this film, the environment plays just as much importance, as a character would, the rock itself is a character. Said by Robert Ebert "Aborigines might speculate that the rock was alive in some way -- that it swallowed these outsiders and kept its silence. As Russell Boyd's camera examines the rock in lush and intimate detail -- its snakes and lizards, its birds and flowers -- certain shots seem to suggest faces in the rock, as if the visitors are being watched." (Ebert, 1998) The camera is left focusing on the rock, creating the effect of the formation looking down on the characters; or the camera is looking down on the girls as they wander around between the rock walls, as if they are being inspected from above. When the girls gaze upon it, it appears to call out for them, luring them closer and away from the group, which is empathised by the deep, wind like or sometimes booming and buzzing music, setting a mysterious and somewhat terrifying image.
Fig 6: The Hanging Rock


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