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:

  • All Love Is Unrequited: Irma's feelings for Mlle. de Poitiers, Mlle. de Poitier's feelings for both Irma and Miranda, Sara's feelings for Miranda, Albert's feelings for Irma, Irma's feelings for Michael, Michael's feelings for Miranda...
  • Ambiguous Ending:
    • Mrs Appleyard dies on Hanging Rock, but was it an accident or suicide?
    • In the deleted scenes from the ending the ghost of Sara appears - she could be a vengeful spirit or Mrs Appleyard's hallucination. It isn't ever made clear whether her death was an accident, suicide or murder, either.
    • Not to mention the central mystery, which is never solved: what the hell happened to the missing girls and their teacher?
  • 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.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: The other girls, especially Marion, regard Edith this way.
  • 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.
  • Being Watched: The narration in the book suggests the picnickers are being watched by Hanging Rock itself. The film replicates this idea with looming shots of the rock. Parts of the rock actually seem to resemble faces.
  • 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.
  • Butt-Monkey: Pretty much every character within the narrative as well as the narration itself mocks Edith mercilessly.
  • 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.
  • Downer Ending: Miss McCraw, Marion, and Miranda vanish forever, and Sara and Mrs. Appleyard both end up committing suicide. The Lumleys burn to death in a hotel fire, Edith dies a few years after the events of the novel, and the surviving characters all live apart and don't see each other again.
  • Driven to Suicide: Sara kills herself after abuse and the probable death of her beloved Miranda. Mrs. Appleyard also throws herself off of a precipice after seeing the ghost of Sara.
  • The Dulcinea Effect: Michael only sees Miranda from a distance for a few seconds and doesn't even talk to her, but immediately becomes infatuated with her and voluntary goes out to look for her, despite all the dangers involved.
  • Fat Girl: Edith. Of the four girls that go climbing, the three pretty ones are somehow absorbed by Hanging Rock, while Edith is immune.
    • YMMV: Edith has a whiny, non-adventurous personality and is less smart than the other girls, which may have more to do with the Rock's rejection of her than her appearance.
  • 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 there were four. He forgot about Edith, the unattractive Fat Girl.
    • Michael and Irma on their Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date:
      Irma: The summer will soon be over.
      Michael: Just as well, probably. I don't think this punt will be safe enough to take out again.
      Irma: It's sad, really. Like someone died.
      Irma: I mean the summer. The end of the summer is like ...
  • Gaussian Girl: Russell Boyd reportedly enhanced the film's diffuse and ethereal look with the simple technique of placing a piece of bridal veil over the camera lens.
  • Genius Loci: Hanging Rock. Maybe.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: In the book, Miranda's Affectionate Nickname for Sara is "Pussy".
  • 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 intellect".
    • Michael and Albert. They go to Queensland together at the end of the book.
  • Hope Spot: Two letters are written to Sara that could have helped her out of her situation; her art teacher offers to take care of her if her guardian continues to fail making payments, and her guardian eventually reappears, explains his whereabouts, pays her tuition and offers her a place to stay for the holiday. Tom forgets to deliver the first letter and the second arrives only after Sara's suicide.
  • 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.
  • Long Lost Sibling: Sara and Albert. They both come from the Ballarat orphanage, but Albert aged out of the system and Sara (almost 10 years younger than her brother) was eventually adopted by a rich man.
  • Love at First Sight: Michael falls for Miranda immediately while seeing her hike to Hanging Rock.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Irma and Mlle. de Poitiers are heavily implied to have some unrequited feelings going on between each other, though the latter makes similar lovestruck comments about Miranda, though she's also engaged to be married. Sara is also in love with Miranda, though Miranda doesn't seem to reciprocate with anyone. Albert is attracted to Irma, who falls in love with Michael, who had a Love at First Sight moment with Miranda he never quite gets over.
  • 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.
  • Mind Screwdriver: Twenty years after the original novel was published, a bonus chapter explaining what happened to the disappeared women was released. Turns out they turned into lizards and disappeared into a timewarp leading into the Rock.
  • Never Found the Body: The three girls and the teacher who disappeared at the rock are never found.
  • Noble Male, Roguish Male: Sheltered Aristocrat Michael and rugged working class Albert.
  • Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date: Michael and Irma have one; it doesn't go well. The scene was deleted in the Re-Cut.
  • One Degree of Separation: Sara and Albert are long-lost siblings, but never learn of each other's presence in Woodend. If Sara had been allowed to go to the picnic, they probably would have been reunited.
  • One-Gender School: Mrs Appleyard's College for Young Ladies. Justified in that it's 1900 and upper-class schools were almost always single-gender.
  • One Name Only: All other major characters have surnames, but Miranda's is noticeably avoided in the book. The film uses "Miranda St Clare" on her MISSING poster.
  • 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.
  • Orphan's Ordeal: Sara was abandoned by her parents, separated from her brother and is openly loathed by the college headmistress, who makes her quit her art classes and taunts her about the prospect of her returning to a nightmarish orphanage should her guardian continue to fail to make payments. Miranda's disappearance doesn't help. It ultimately becomes too much for her, and she kills herself.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: In the book, Mlle de Poitiers realises Sara is in danger because she never would have left Miranda's portrait behind.
  • 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 really looking for Miranda instead, it doesn't pan out. Irma does fall in love with him, however. On the other hand, Albert is attracted to Irma and is the one to physically rescue her from the Rock, but knows things will never work out between them.
  • Riddle for the Ages: The fate of the girls and their teacher.
  • Romantic Two-Girl Friendship: The film opens with the schoolgirls exchanging passionate valentines. Sara has a very obvious crush on Miranda. She's not the only one.
  • 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.
  • Scare Chord: When Albert finds Michael catatonic after staying overnight on the rock, we get a scare chord which sounds like a bird call.
  • Secret Relationship: Minnie and Tom are carrying on an affair and are married in the epilogue.
  • 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.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Albert.
    "If the bloody cop and the bloody abo tracker and the bloody dog can't find 'em, well, no one bloody can."
  • 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.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Michael is in shock when Albert finds him after he stayed overnight at the rock.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: One theory posits that those who disappeared at the Rock were closer to earth and nature and less preoccupied with material surroundings, whereas Irma and Michael failed to be taken because their identities were so closely tied with their wealth.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Mlle. de Poitiers goes from being a passive observer of the fallout of the incident at the Rock to threatening to club Miss Lumley after she does nothing to help Irma.
  • Trail of Bread Crumbs: Michael leaves paper tags in the bushes as he climbs the rock.
  • Trauma-Induced Amnesia:
    • Edith runs out of the bushes screaming her head off, but can't provide any details as to why.
    • Irma is recovered from the rock, scratched and bruised, but can't remember anything about what happened.
    • Michael too is in no fit state to answer questions after his time 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.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Mrs. Appleyard starts drinking more and loses grip on her finely manicured appearance as the novel wears on.
  • 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 based in burned down a year after the events of Hanging Rock. Michael has settled down in a property of his own in North Queensland. Edith died in Melbourne few years after leaving the college, while Irma is living in Europe and married to a French count. Albert, Mme De Poitiers and Mr. Whitehead will live a long life.
  • Woman in White:
    • All of the girls wear gauzy white dresses to the picnic, except for Sara who is left behind in her blue school dress.
    • 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