Picnic at Hanging Rock

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Picnic at Hanging Rock Movie Poster Image
Eerie, haunting film hints at violence and sexuality.
  • PG
  • 1979
  • 107 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Themes include innocence and sexuality, civilization and nature, Christianity and Paganism, but messages are up to a variety of interpretation.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Most characters are more symbolic than anything -- of innocence, fear, corruption, sexuality. Two of the local teenage boys are undaunted in their search for the missing girls and teacher.

Violence

A girl is found dead after presumably falling to her death from a window into a greenhouse. A character is shown scratched up and bleeding as he searches for the missing girls and teacher. While the disappearance of the girls and teacher is never shown directly, viewers hear a shrieking scream.

Sex

A maid is shown in bed, partially clothed in the arms of a shirtless man, presumably having an affair with him.

Language

Rare "hell."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adult characters are shown smoking. Two of the younger male characters pass a large beer bottle back and forth, taking sips. Later in the film, the Headmistress is shown drinking from a whiskey bottle and acting drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Picnic at Hanging Rock -- an eerie allegorical mystery about three students and an instructor who inexplicably vanish during a field trip -- has powerful sexual and violent undertones, though very little is shown. Instead, an ethereal, ghostlike quality permeates the film, which gives no easy answers to the central mystery, but nevertheless, feels creepy and complex.

User Reviews

What's the story?

Against a backdrop of Victorian-era repression and Romanticism, a group of girls from the very strict Appleyard College in rural Australia take a field trip on Valentine's Day 1900 to Hanging Rock, a desolate volcanic outgrowth of rocks and forest that hangs above the school and the nearby village of Woodend. While the rest of the students nap through the sweltering afternoon, four girls decide to go off on their own and explore Hanging Rock. One of the four girls wakes up near Hanging Rock to find the other three girls missing. She returns screaming, and as one of the instructors goes off to find the other three, she disappears too. In the aftermath of their disappearances, the school and the townspeople try and make sense of the insensible, haunted by what happened and by the disappearance of the beautiful and haunting Miranda, in particular.

Is it any good?

PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK is an early film from Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society, The Truman Show), and one of the best films to emerge from the Australian New Wave movement of the 1970s. Based on a novel by Joan Lindsay, it's an ethereal exploration of life and death, reality and dream in 1900 rural Australia -- part mystery, part allegory, and open to any number of interpretations. Even before their disappearances, the girls who vanish don't seem entirely real -- quoting Edgar Allan Poe, dressed in white and moving about like ghosts, dropping hints of what's to come couched in Romantic sentiment. Like the Victorian era in which its set, Picnic at Hanging Rock is not overtly filled with sex and violence, but it's there nonetheless, just beneath the facades these characters present to each other.

While not for everyone -- especially less mature viewers and viewers hoping for a simple "whodunit" mystery where everything's tied up in a nice bow at the end, Picnic at Hanging Rock is an enchanting, enigmatic film experience like no other.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how this movie compares to other mysteries. Does everything need to be clear-cut and solved at the end to be "good" or even satisfying?

  • How does the film reveal the repressive Victorian culture of this rural Australian girls' school in 1900? What are the clues?

  • What are the different reactions to the girls' disappearance? What messages can you take from how they respond to the tragedy?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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