Friday, 9 December 2011

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

Fig 1

                                                                                                               Fig 2            Horror isn't required to have the same, repetitive tropes of vampires, corpses, zombies or boogie-men. It can also be based on a summer's day with the sun high in the sky and the innocence of a young woman, while said horror movie hints at the notion of sexuality. This movie can result in such great pieces as Picnic at Hanging Rock. (Fig1). Horror movies like this one are often within the same realm as the tree of knowledge from the bible; it's almost forbidden because it is outside of the box; outside of conventional themes which can be easily explained, not because it revolves around gruesome horror. Roger Eber, a renowned film review, explains this perfectly, saying “The underlying suggestion is that Victorian attitudes toward sex, coupled with the unsettling mysteries of an ancient land, lead to events the modern mind cannot process.” (Ebert, 1998) He mentions the attitude of Victorians towards sex, which is a good example of this film’s messages. In Victorian ages, sex was a very reserved topic. It was often shrouded in embarrassment, ignorance and fear. He also mentions the landscape. The formations are very reminiscent of phallic symbols (Fig 2), and since the young women find the Australian outback to be very alien, the same could be said for these formations, reminiscent of their virginity.
                      Fig 3
     The film depicts the story of a trio of young, virginal women who vanish while taking part in a trip to one of the many strange formations in the Australian outback, this one in particular going by the name of Hanging Rock. (Fig 2). Picnic at Hanging Rock is a movie whose main priority is bombarding us with vague clues and to stretch our perception of conventional film.

     In the opening scene of the film, we see the students of Mrs. Appleyard's College for Young Women. The film exaggurates their virginal innocence, to an extreme degree even, and from such an early point in the film that it is blatantly obvious that there are supressed sexual desires in every nook and cranny. one of the girls is forbidden from going on the field trip and the film gives us an arbitrary reason: the head mistress is apparently a heartless monster. Making much of a presence at the day out is the outback's heat, yet the girls wear thick gowns which makes us even more uncomfortable.
                                                                                                                         Fig 4
     During the film, we get consistent suggestive motives and scenes which suggest that the outback is alive thanks to Weir, the Director. Such a scene where this can be applied is where four girls separate from the group and wander off into the Hanging Rock formation, ignorant of the warnings given by their head mistress to not go near the rock. It's almost as though they are being seduced by something. The overall atmosphere is creepy and not at all homely as the soundtrack sends chills down our spines. As three girls climb up the rock, the tropic 'round' girl screams and runs off, returning to the encampment. As UrbanClineFile states in a review, “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.” (UrbanClineFile, 2007) Stated here, these three aspects make the scene all the more effective in terms of giving the audience a surrealistic chill. The fact that they also wander off into the mountain can also bring us back to the concept of sexuality in this film. Perhaps the scene is a metaphor for male dominance during the time the film was set in? It’s vaguely explained in the scene, however.

Despite the central focus around the almost seductive nature of the Australian outback, the film itself is most definitely not a slideshow of pleasent pictures of young women wandering off into rock formations. The film knows full well of the romanticized urges of the young, such urges being so overwhelming that containment is useless.



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