I’m going to have a hard time describing Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock. I could tell you about the plot, which involves three teenage girls and one woman vanishing at a mysterious volcanic landform on Valentine’s Day, 1900. I could examine the metaphors of man’s attempts to tame Australia’s wilderness, and the Victorian Era’s attempts to tame the budding sexuality of young women. I could also go on about the film’s obvious influence on The Virgin Suicides. But all I really want to talk about is the atmosphere of the film, the mysterious, mystical aura that hangs over a foreboding undercurrent, like a white flowing dress passing through a harsh secluded landscape. It’s rare to find a film that is so successfully held together by mood alone, or a story that leaves me to ponder unanswered questions without wanting to answer them. Beautiful, haunting, and very recommended.
The premise of WALKABOUT is not all that unfamiliar. A white brother and sister become stranded in the Australian outback, and must rely on the guidance of a young Aborigine to survive and find their way home. It’s a coming of age film full of condemnation against modern living and a healthy measure of noble savage clichés. But that’s only on the surface. For me, what takes the film several steps further is some brilliant editing. The story is full of unlikely juxtapositions, some of them making obvious comparisons between living in nature versus the “civilized” world, while others have meanings far more abstract. For example, some of the most memorable images are closeups of the desert’s bizarre wildlife. At first they struck me as representing the perils of the landscape, but later they become a symbol of survival, of life teeming in unlikely places. Finally, with some graphic hunting scenes, the message becomes a larger one about life, death, and cruelty. WALKABOUT is a film that thoughtfully explores all of these topics, and does it with very little dialog.