Thursday, 8 December 2011

Unit 3: Environment - Review - Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock

Figure 1. Picnic at Hanging Rock Poster Art

Picnic at Hanging Rock is mystery on entirely different level. One could say that the film does not reveal its true intention before hypnotising its audience, on the other hand we know going in what the story is about. The Beauty of the young girls in this natural overgrown environment is temptation itself, or is it? The Hanging rock would have one believing different, with the more probable possibility of a satanic nature at it’s under workings.

•Directed by: Peter Wier
•Written by: Joan Lindsay & Cliff Green
•Cast: Rachel Roberts as Mrs. Appleyard, Dominic Guard as Michael Fitzhubert, Vivean Gray as Miss Greta McGraw, Helen Morse as Diane de Poitiers, Kirsty Child as Dora Lumley & Karen Robson as Irma.
•Genre: Drama, Mystery, Suspense & Classics
•Duration: 115 Minutes (aprox)

Figure 2. "It waited a million years, just for us”

Picnic at Hanging rock opens to a rather posh Victorian school for girls in which the young ladies are going on a picnic to local landmark – “The Hanging Rock”. Upon arriving 3 of the girls decide to explore leaving only a trail of suspects & suspicions. It is later learned that one of the girl’s teachers who was seen climbing the rock face is also missing. After repeat visits one of the girls is finally found but she remembers nothing of the incident. By the end credits the audience are left scratching their heads wondering what actually happened to the missing girls, Ebert observes:
“Of course the entire point is that there is no explanation. The girls walked into the wilderness, and were seen no more. Aborigines might speculate that the rock was alive in some way -- that it swallowed these outsiders and kept its silence.” (Ebert: 1998)
One could draw any number of possibilities and attribute an outcome; the very fact that there is no answer is unsettling in itself. The most important thing one contemplates is that evil did not lose it won and it did it with everyone watching. One cannot help but consider a satanic possession but even then that is not confirmed. The whole occurrence is therefore best explained as “other worldly”. The same thing one attributes to the appearance of UFO’s or an unexplained abduction. The simplest answer would be that the girls fell down a hole in the rock and died but the lack of a body really discounts that theory to its audience.

Figure 3. "Stopped at 12, never stopped before... Must be magnetic”

Probably the most distinctive occurrence of the paranormal is the films recurring use of time which appears significant from the start. Clocks are present in most of the interior sets with one dominating the outdoor set of “The Hanging Rock”, namely the pocket watch of Miss McGraw. Everything appears to stop with the watches tick as every person in the vicinity gets a sudden case of narcolepsy, gently resting where they stand. At this point one cannot help but feel as though a greater force is at work with everything grounding to a halt. Reviewer Andrew Urban observes:
“The scene, for example, in which the four girls stop in a plateau within the Rock and simply, gently lay down to sleep, carries a subtle yet powerful sense of intangible foreboding, created simply by the actors precise actions, the images and the sound design.” (Urban, 2007)
One cannot begin to question the power present in this scene and how horror suddenly follows. When the girls wake one almost expects them to begin playfully laughing but this is met by silence as an uncanny primal force drives the girls to continue on. Everything which was once pure and beautiful now spirals down as survivor Edith (played by Christine Schuler) runs away screaming. This is particularly powerful as the shot of Edith escaping is distorted from a crevice on the rock which appears to almost be stalking her as she vacates the shot.

Figure 4. "Everything begins and ends at exactly the right time”

... a suggestion and yet a sentence without conclusion, very much like the entire film. One could attribute these common feelings of uncanny with an incomplete picture. One could notice that films built of the Freudian Uncanny suspend the linearity of storytelling, finishing mid sentence leaving a multi-linear conclusion. The possibility of satanic possession almost feels ideal, our psyche feels threatened by this very real unknown, with its very absence revealing insecurities within us all. Respected psychoanalyst Freud observes:
“Even a “real” ghost, as in Oscar Wilde’s Canterville Ghost, loses all power of arousing at any rate an uncanny horror in us as soon as the author begins to amuse himself at its expense and allows liberties to be taken with it.” (Freud, 1919: 158)
One could say that the absence of a figure or antagonist makes Picnic at the Hanging rock that much more terrifying. One could relate this to Freud’s castration complex where we cannot use our eyes to identify the spirit; we can only feel its presence. If the audience were aware of the true nature of the hanging rock they would be less afraid of it, for this film plays on mankind’s fear of the unknown. The return of one of the girls mid way through the film is quite possibly the most tantalising, mainly because this makes the uncanny of demonic possession much more likely but still not a certainty.


List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Picnic at Hanging Rock Poster Art. (com) [Online image]. At:
(Accessed on: 08/12/11)

Figure 2. It waited a million years, just for us. (com) [Online image]. At:
(Accessed on: 08/12/11)

Figure 3. Stopped at 12, never stopped before... Must be magnetic. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 08/12/11)

Figure 4. Everything begins and ends at exactly the right time. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 08/12/11)



Ebert, Roger. (1998) Picnic at Hanging Rock Review. At: (Accessed on: 08/12/11)

Urban, Andrew. (2007) Picnic at Hanging Rock – Directors cut DVD. At:
(Accessed on: 08/12/11)

Sigmund, Freud. (1919) Essay on The Uncanny, Penguin Classics, 3rd Edition
(Accessed on: 08/12/11)


  1. One could relate this to Freud’s castration complex where we cannot use our eyes to identify the spirit; we can only feel its presence. !!! :D

    However - you have spelled Peter Weir's name wrong in your post title - tut tut!