On Saturday 14th February 1900 a party of schoolgirls from Appleyard College picknicked at Hanging Rock, near Mt. Macedon in the State of Victoria. During the afternoon several members of the party disappeared without a trace …
The story of three missing schoolgirls may or not be true. Ironically, the possibility of the movie being based in fact just adds another layer of intrigue to a movie that is ambiguous on so many levels.
Picnic at Hanging Rock begins with character development of the schoolgirls. Although educated in the strict English tradition of chastity and manners, hints of lesbianism and rebellion simmer beneath the refined outward demeanour.
While partaking in luncheon on the mysterious and dangerous Hanging Rock, three of the girls defy orders to explore. They never return. There are suggestions that they may have been murdered, kidnapped, molested, fallen down a ravine, or somehow swallowed by a kind of supernatural force. The answer is never resolved and the audience is left hanging in regards to the possibilities. The frustration that the audience feels at not knowing the truth is shown on the screen as the townsfolk and school become increasingly agitated at the inability of anyone to produce definite answers.
Throughout the movie, themes of order and chaos are continually contrasted. The refined ladies, in their strictly cultivated attire, are shown as objects of beauty in the randomness of the Australian bush, and on the verge of losing their innocence. The male characters are displayed in various states of symbolic disintegration. One man smokes a cigarette, speaks in strine, and sports a dishevelled shirt all while wearing a top hat. An Aboriginal tracker tries to find the girls while informerly wearing formal English attire.
Picnic at Hanging Rock was the movie that truly led the recovery of the Australian industry. Along with Walkabout, it is considered to be an art house classic of Australian cinema.