Quick-Thoughts: Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

Screened at The Frida Cinema

What a strange movie. I mean really, this takes the jokingly “touch grass” saying into a whole new orbit with its revolutionary atmospheric drama and abstruse ornamentation of surreal circumstances. A coming of age tale about how discrete disconnections between what’s organized or routined and what’s intrinsically complex in introduction — but likely organized as well, simply obscured as such by our lack of knowledge on it — forge the bipolar cycle of humanity. It certainly had a direct influence on auteurs such as Sofia Coppola, and films such as Daughters of the Dust (1991) also come to mind when thinking of Peter Weir, Cliff Green, and Joan Lindsay’s dreamlike storytelling aesthetics which must’ve been game-changing to experience during the 70s.

If you wanted to go the most obvious route in a movie full of ones to choose from, Picnic at Hanging Rock is a functional allegory of surpassing institutional order and no longer depending on the timeline of others. Nature here represents our personal instincts calling to us, but upholding college regulations or befriending someone by proposing common social gestures *liquor!* would rather be our cultural instincts calling to us. New order is weaved by the obtrusion between each other’s convergence like when the two young men’s progression in the search begins recoding their moral compass, while the old ones are then destroyed like with the tragedies that befall upon the headmistress and her students. On a hundred different undercurrents too this has puberty and religious-institution metaphor written all over it, insinuating sexual exploration as something challenging the old order, threatening its fertility.

There are three ways people usually encounter plausible independence: becoming either lost from — perhaps even forever —, refusing, or embracing whatever’s restricted in this sole order we’ve faired allegiance to our whole lives. Honestly, it’s all quite relatable as someone currently surrendering to college yet wishing for the courage to just head up the rock instead, hoping to wear that red cloak by the end but being humbled throughout nonetheless by all of its possible outcomes and obvious social risks that come of breaking order. I guess in that case, this movie kind of works as a cynical “motivator”.

Verdict: B-

“Picnic at Hanging Rock” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel and HBO Max.

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