Picnic at Hanging Rock

I can't stop yawning today! I need to try to get some sleep - my first full day of work was really busy, and I'm still adjusting to having to wake up early and be functional for so long! Even though it was tiring, I was happy to be at work today. It's tough to adjust now after being unemployed for so long, but I know that I will.

The movie that I watched today was Picnic at Hanging Rock, directed by Peter Weir in 1975.  It was a really eerie movie. It felt like a nightmare - where everything feels off and you feel so deeply wrong about everything. The soundtrack was creepy, the acting was creepy, the plot was creepy - so much about this movie disturbed me. There was something about it that reminded me of bad dreams, when you want to shake the feeling of them but can't.  I don't know if being a little drowsy made me more suggestible to the eerie feelings in this movie, who knows. Even though I was weirded out by it, I sort of loved the movie. It's effective at being creepy, and clearly has all sorts of symbolism and odd undertones. It's pretty amazing when any movie can make you feel an emotion really strongly, even if it's an uncomfortable emotion. I really like this movie for how strange it made me feel (that sounds weird!).

The movie is about a group of girls from a strict Victorian boarding school. They go out on a picnic at some sort of ugly looking rock formation. Their teacher describes it to them in almost pornographic detail. The girls lounge around in the grass and celebrate St. Valentines day in a sort of creepy way, stabbing into a heart-shaped cake that they brought. A group of girls feels compelled to explore the rocks, and later, all three of them, and their teacher, vanish. This seems to upset and disturb the whole community, and everyone begins acting a bit off.

I don't want to really spoil any more of the plot, although Ebert gives away more than I would in the first sentence of his review. I went into this pretty blind, and I felt like that made it more creepy to watch. I wasn't expecting how weird the atmosphere and tone would be, and the surprise of that was great. So, if you have any interest in seeing this, I personally think it's more fun to watch it without knowing too much about it.

I found the whole feel of the movie to be really unsettling. There was a haunting soundtrack done on a panflute. It's not a common instrument to hear in movies, which I think is what made me more worried when I started to hear it. Something creepy would happen in the plot, and the music would play, and I just tensed up. It was sort of repetitive sounding, but that seemed to only make it more effective. It didn't feel overbearing like when other movie soundtracks try to get the viewer to feel an emotion. It worked really well, and created a really eerie atmosphere.

In his essay, Ebert writes that the movie reminds him of A Passage to India. Specifically, the scene in the Marabar caves when one woman has something happen to her, although no one knows what. The incident is regarded as sexual - someone must have assaulted the woman in the caves. In reality, probably she just panicked about something or other ("sexual hysteria" is what this scene is a result of, apparently). There is some sort of a message here about how the repressed sexual attitudes of the Victorian era and the wild, untamed manners of nature create something dangerous and horrible. Obviously, there is a very similar idea going on in Picnic. The girls wear very traditional Victorian clothes and have many arbitrary rules to follow, and the movie centers around the girls going out and experiencing something disturbing in nature. I don't want to analyze the whole movie, but I did think there were some weird sexual undertones to the whole movie. Even the rock formation itself seemed sort of, erm, phallic. It reminded me of the awkward scene of confused sexual awakening in A Room with a View (the scene with the "throbbing towers" that she sees).

A more awake person might put together something to say about all of these themes, but it's a little too late at night for me to do that. I guess overall, I just loved the creepy feeling of this movie. It's also awesome that there is more at work here, and all sorts of interesting things lie just under the surface of the film. I loved how it captured the feeling I get when I have nightmares - feeling like things are off, feeling like things are disturbing or upsetting but not being able to wake up to escape them. It wasn't a movie with scares that jump out at you, but I loved that. It's all atmosphere and psychology, not just loud noises. All the different parts of this film combined so well and just left me feeling really unsettled afterward. The movie is streaming on Hulu and Netflix - let me know if you check it out!

Have any of you seen Picnic at Hanging Rock? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Picnic at Hanging Rock
Buy or rent it on Amazon

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