Film: Picnic at Hanging Rock

A classic Australian mystery/drama film, released in 1975 and directed by Peter Weir.

Set in 1900 and based on the novel by Joan Lindsay, Picnic at Hanging Rock tells the story of an ill-fated outing undertaken by Australian schoolgirls enrolled at an exclusive finishing school. Students of Appleyard College are permitted to spend Valentine's Day at Hanging Rock, collecting information for an essay to be written upon their return. After being granted permission by their French mistress, Miranda, Marion, Irma and Edith set off to explore the upper slopes of the rock. Wandering through the maze-like tunnels, Edith discovers that the others appear to have fallen into a trance; the trio have, as one, removed their shoes and stockings, and proceed to drift into another narrow passage. Fearful, Edith runs back to fetch help, Mathematics mistress Miss McCraw heading up to fetch them. However, teacher and students disappear without a trace.

The film features visually hypnotic photography by Oscar winner Russel Boyd and a haunting score by Bruce Smeaton, and established Weir as a major International talent.

This film provides examples of:

  • Ambiguously Jewish: Irma, who's also far the richest of her peers, is a Rothschild on her mother's side and described as a dark-haired beauty - in a school of blondes - with dark eyes and typical black curly hair.
  • Animal Motifs: In Michael's dreams Miranda is represented by a swan. Insects also appear at several key points, from the ants devouring the leftover Valentine's cake to the praying mantis seen after Sara's suicide.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: It's almost guaranteed that anytime the film/book is brought up/read/watched, someone's going to claim it actually happened. It didn't.
  • Blade-of-Grass Cut: Close-ups of the ants and other bugs crawling all over the food that the girls have brought to the picnic.
  • Boarding School: Appleyard College, a girls' finishing school.
  • Bury Your Gays: Sara, who clearly was in love with beautiful Miranda, flings herself out a window of the college.
  • Class Trip: The titular picnic at Hanging Rock.
  • Clock King: Mrs. Appleyard is associated with clocks and watches throughout. Note also that at Hanging Rock, everyone's watches stop.
  • Covert Pervert: When Albert is making comments about the girls:
    Michael: I'd rather you didn't say crude things like that, Albert.
    Albert: I say the crude things; you just think them.
  • Cultural Cringe: The whole point of the boarding school is to train the girls to behave like proper English ladies.
  • Dan Browned: Supposed quotations from the "actual" police reports of the time are referenced in the novel, which went unquestioned by many readers.
  • Don't Go in the Woods: A teacher and group of students venture into the Australian wilderness on a picnic. Something out there claims the girls one by one, and they're never seen again.
  • Fat Girl: Edith. Of the four girls that go climbing, the three pretty ones are somehow absorbed by Hanging Rock, while Edith is immune.
  • The Film of the Book: An unusually faithful example.
  • Freudian Slip: When Michael is questioned by the police about the girl he at first confirms having seen three girls and later he corrects himself saying that actually they were four. He has forgotten Edith, the plain one.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Late in the movie Mrs. Appleyard realizes, to her own annoyance, how much she had come to rely on Ms. McCraw and her "masculine intelligence."
    • Mike and Albert could also count.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Mrs. Appleyard throws one back after Miss Lumley hands in her resignation.
  • I Will Find You: Michael is obsessed with finding the girls, particularly Miranda.
  • Jerkass: Mrs. Appleyard, who cares little for the children. Miss Lumley, who ties Sara against a wall to correct her posture (although on Mrs. Appleyard's orders, and she seems to feel bad about it).
  • Karmic Death: Mrs. Appleyard and, in the novel, Miss Lumley.
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: Sara is badly depressed after Miranda's disappearance, so Mrs. Appleyard decides that now would be a good time to send her back to the orphanage.
  • Lady in Red: Irma when she last visits the school. Whatever happens at Hanging Rock seems to have something to do with the girls' blooming sexuality. Irma, the only one of the four to be found, wears a scarlet dress upon her return, in contrast to the drab outfits of the girls that study there.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: In the book, odd things happen with time during the picnic. No one's watch works correctly. Things take longer than they should or happen much more quickly than seems possible. None of it is so far out there that it is unrealistic, but it is just weird enough for the audience to consider the possibility that the supernatural may have been involved in the girls' disappearance. This is pushed firmly into supernatural territory by The Secret of Hanging Rock, as summarized here.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: In-universe. When Sara talks about her time in the orphanage, her posh, cultivated accent slips into something more distinctly Australian.
  • Police Are Useless: While Sergeant Bumpher and his deputies provide a very thorough investigation, ultimately they're as baffled as anyone about the disappearances.
  • Re Cut: Weir's director's cut removes a few scenes. (Sadly, only the director's cut is available in America, one of the few times The Criterion Collection has really dropped the ball. Many viewers find the original theatrical cut to be superior. There is a UK DVD available with both versions of the film.)
  • Revised Ending: The novel's final chapter was deleted, then published separately in 1987 as The Secret of Hanging Rock.
  • Rescue Romance: Most of people in town assume that is what's going on between Michael and Irma, but since he was basically looking for Miranda instead, it ends up otherwise.
  • Romantic Two-Girl Friendship: The film opens with the schoolgirls exchanging passionate valentines. Sara has a very obvious crush on Miranda.
  • Same Language Dub: The girl visually portraying Edith was not a professional actress but she looked exactly as the director wanted the character of Edith to look. Her lines were dubbed in post.
  • Secret Relationship: Minnie and Tom are carrying on an affair and end up married.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Sarah is sensitive and cultured while Albert is hot blooded and barely manages to write. Justified because Sarah become the ward of a richman who paid for her education while Albert spent his childhood as a Street Urchin until being old enough to get a job.
  • Situational Sexuality: The girls don't have any outlet for their burgeoning feelings except each other.
  • Sole Survivor: Irma is found, but has no memory of what happened on the rock.
  • The Unsolved Mystery: We never learn how or why the girls vanished. The novel did have a chapter that explained it but the publishers decided to keep it a mystery in most editions.
  • Widow Woman: Mrs. Appleyard still mourns her dead husband.
  • Where Are They Now: The last chapter of the novel mentions that the Appleyard college the house is burned down an year after the events of Hanging Rock. Michael has settled down in a property ofhis own in North Queensland. Edith died in Melbourne few years after leaving the college, while Irma is living in Europe and married a French count. Albert, Mme De Poitiers and Mr. Whitehead will live a long life.
  • Woman in White: All of the girls wear pure white dresses...except for Sara.
    • Sara finally invokes this trope at the end of the film, when she commits suicide in her white nightdress.

Alternative Title(s):

Picnic At Hanging Rock