While we may enjoy the uplifting times of a picnic in the sun, those within Picnic at Hanging Rock have a hellish time exploring the titular area near Mt. Macedon. Peter Weir directs this feature which details not only those who were lost that day but also those who managed to stick with the group and make their return to civilisation. It is the impact this loss has on them that is explored with deeper understanding, than that of what struck up the disappearance in the first place. We cannot hope for all mysteries to be solved, and what Weir understands with that line of thought is that there are those cases that come up short. Picnic at Hanging Rock identifies as one, coming up short itself where narrative threads are concerned.
Had Weir spent more time on growing his characters than framing them with such an exceptional eye for detail, we would perhaps learn more than the bare minimum about Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts) and her students. White dresses and the uniformed expectations of this class are presented rather well, and as they wander down the stairs with hurried glee, that sense of adventure inherent to this part of life is documented well and engaged with. Weir contrasts that innocence and desire for exploration well in later parts of the film, but his solution to this is open-endedness. He plays it off as the mystery of life and how not everything can be solved but does so in a way where he hopes the audience clicks onto it, and by hoping for that, he subsequently holds our hand, guiding us to where he thinks we should be looking.
But that is the point of it, is it not? That idea that not every mystery can be solved plays on the mind of an audience. We are used to the happy endings Hollywood can provide, and throwing us in such a wildly different direction is an unexpected approach. Its fresh attitude does not linger long, primarily because the writing is not up to scratch. Its mystery is good, but the themes of sexual madness and enlightenment surrounding that are not conforming to anything Weir wishes to represent. He plays with too many instruments on the move. There are too many pokers in the fire, far too many for his style to handle, which is methodical and slow. It needs to be if it is to take on such a tale.
Weir makes that frequent but tragic mistake of never committing to one particular style. Had he committed to his artistic benefits and merits, Picnic at Hanging Rock would be a film so beautiful it’d give Days of Heaven a run for its money. But he never takes us there, he wishes to explore the scenery around him, but with slow and methodical pacing, one that leaves his characters wide open to interpretation as they linger around one another. We are slower than we should be in warming to these characters, but who can blame us? Weir never manages to make them all that credible as centrepieces, despite his desire to drop infrequent notes of the period piece mentality. They would benefit him well if he knew where his story was going, and how fast he wished us to get to its conclusion.