Theological Reflections on
Picnic at Hanging Rock
Note: I first saw Picnic at Hanging Rock upon its release in 1975. I was 10-years-old, and the haunting quality of the film left a deep and long-lasting impression on me. As I grew into awareness of my sexuality, the film's themes of oppression and liberation became meaningfully apparent to me. I wrote the first version of this paper in 1996 for Vertigo, a journal of thought and reflection on sexuality and spirituality published by the theology department of the College of St. Catherine, St. Paul. The version I share today at The Wild Reed was written in 2002 as part of my studies in film and theology at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities.
The aim of this paper is to use Peter Weir's 1975 film Picnic at Hanging Rock as a visual text in an exploration of (i) unfettered power of empire and its connection to oppression and violence, (ii) human resistance to and liberation from such power, and (iii) the theological implications of these important interrelated issues. Accordingly, this exploration provides an opportunity to integrate three topics of great interest to me – film, religion and politics.
Film and Theology: A Rationale
I understand film, and art in general, as having the capacity to generate what theologian John Dixon terms "the fatal questions: How am I related to the other? How ought I to be related to the other?" Such questions have theological and social implications and can serve to propel us into the realm of the sacred, to seek, in other words, the ultimate ground of our being and the ways in which this ground-of-being is incarnated in and through human life.
I thus concur with theologian Margaret Miles who says that "film implicitly, if not explicitly, addresses the question of how human beings should live." Such a fundamental question, Miles insists, must be concerned with "the common good as well as [with] individual flourishing." At the heart of this insistence is Miles' belief that religion is primarily to do with exploration and articulation of a sense of relatedness – within an individual, between individuals, within families, communities and societies, and with the natural environment.
In short, I believe that any film – indeed, any work of art – that attempts to explore the human condition in all its complexity, will contain a spiritual and thus theological dimension worth investigating. I also concur with David Jasper when he states in the anthology Explorations in Theology and Film that for popular art to make a serious contribution to theological reflection and discussion, it has to be "two-edged, difficult and ambiguous" – qualities that are often reflective of authentic relationship and the questions regarding how we should live.
Religion and Politics: Some Clarifying Thoughts
Religion, if it is taken seriously, must inevitably be a public matter [in that] those who believe that a religious tradition or form of spirituality is true and valid cannot help but have their own public behavior shaped by its inspirations and demands . . . All serious traditions develop views of what is right and just.
Whether we like it or not, the connections between religion and public policy choices are profound and unavoidable. Government policy and religious matters are not the same thing but neither do they exist in isolation from each other. The two are distinct but not separate from each other. The two domains intertwine because both of them claim to give authoritative answers to important questions about how people should live.
– Hugh Hecklen
Picnic at Hanging Rock: A Synopsis
Hanging Rock. During the course of the afternoon, three of the girls disappear – as does Miss Greta McCraw (Vivean Gray), the college's mathematics mistress. Although one of the girls is discovered in a state of amnesia seven days later, no trace of the other missing picnickers is ever found.
Picnic at Hanging Rock, however, is not concerned with solving the mystery of what happened on the Rock. Instead, director Peter Weir is more interested in exploring how rigid structures of repressive power and control, personified in the film by the troubled headmistress Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts) are undermined by the presence of mystery and the ability and willingness of some to transcend repressive systems of power. Such individuals are represented in the film by those who disappear at Hanging Rock – in particular the enigmatic Miranda (Anne Lambert) – and by the rebellious orphan Sara Waybourne (Margaret Nelson).
The plot of Peter Weir's film Picnic at Hanging Rock is based on Joan Lindsay's 1967 novel and revolves upon the interesting though fictitious event described above. In Picnic at Hanging Rock, Weir aims to unnerve and challenge not only the viewer's cinematographic and narrative expectations, but the rigidly ordered and oppressive structures of control that many cling to as opposed to being open to the unknown.
Such structures of control are represented in the film by the rural Victorian college wherein the schoolgirls reside in a climate of strict discipline and repressed sexuality.
Yet the college is only one of the film's two contrasting milieus. The opposing reality is the natural world, or as we term it in Australia, the bush.
Upon its release, Picnic at Hanging Rock was praised for its atmospheric cinematography – one which captures beautifully and hauntingly, the unique colors, sounds and contours of the Australian bush.
It is a deeply primordal sound – one that will be echoed on the afternoon of the picnic when Miss McCraw's attention is inexplicibly drawn from her book of trigonometry to the jutting crags of the Rock, and when the schoolgirls Miranda (Anne Lambert), Marion (Jane Vallis) and Irma (Karen Robson) explore in awed fascination the time-encoded patterns and formations of the monolith. They are patterns that speak mesmerizingly of transcendence and timelessness, and formations that increasingly seem to invite passage to such realms.
Themes of oppression and liberation in Picnic at Hanging Rock
The film Picnic at Hanging Rock is set in rural Victoria, Australia, in the year 1900 – one year before Australia became a federated state, i.e. an entity with its own parliament and Prime Minister. Federation was a historic step – the birth of the Australian nation. Australia had taken a step away from the British empire – while still remaining a part of this empire. The film was made in the 1970s at a time when there was a resurgence in Australia of calls for full independence from Britain. Thus independence and liberation are strong themes not only within the film but within the underlying social, political and cultural matrix of both the film's time of setting and time of making.
Mrs. Appleyard: The personification of empire
Rachel Roberts) is portrayed as an imposing and regimented Englishwoman of genteel sophistication – a sophistication as foreign to the Australian psychic landscape as the imposing sandstone mansion and manicured lawns of Appleyard College are foreign to the physical landscape.
The presence of clocks in the film is significant. The first time we observe Mrs. Appleyard she is pausing in her writing to check her timepiece. The sound of a ticking grandfather clock dominates the soundtrack of this scene and virtually every scene involving Mrs. Appleyard. Even when she is outside, standing on the steps of the college forbidding the departing schoolgirls any "tomboy foolishness in the matter of exploration" at Hanging Rock, a large clock can be viewed through the open front door of the college over Mrs. Appleyard's shoulder. What are these cinematic elements saying? What do clocks and the measurement of time symbolize in the film?
Throughout the film, the English and/or many older Australians who remain strongly tied to the "mother-land" are portrayed negatively. The sole exception is the visiting young Englishman, Michael Fitzhubert (Dominic Guard) who obsessed with Miranda, rejects his upper-class (and thus very British) obligations by joining with the young Australian stablehand, Albert (John Jarrett), to search for the missing picnickers on the Rock.
Insights on nationalism, capitalism, and imperialism
As previously noted, the character of Mrs. Appleyard personifies a system of repressive power, or in the words of Indian author and activist Arundhati Roy, "the accumulation of vast unfettered power". It is an accumulation that reflects cultural imperialism and comprises, in the words of theologian Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, a "domination system." Nelson-Pallmeyer also notes in his book Jesus Against Christianity that the teachings and actions of the historical Jesus must be viewed in the context of such a domination system – as must our own lives as followers of Jesus in modern day America.
Arundhati Roy says that the accumulation of vast unfettered power by a State or a country, a corporation or an institution--or even an individual, a spouse, a friend, a sibling – regardless of ideology, results in excesses." Roy goes on to recount such excesses in our modern world: nuclear bombs, corporate globalization, the rising threat of fascism.
In her recent address entitled "Come September," Roy was especially critical of nationalism, which she sees as both a tool and an "excess" of "vast unfettered power." Roy and others have been labeled "anti-national" for expressing their views. Yet as she notes, "It isn't necessary to be 'anti-national' to be deeply suspicious of all nationalism, to be anti-nationalism. Nationalism of one kind or another was the cause of most of the genocide of the twentieth century. Flags are bits of colored cloth that governments use first to shrink-wrap people's brains and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead."
According to Joel Kovel in his book The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World, nationalism in the U.S. is intrinsically tied to capitalism and thus to U.S. imperialism.
Imperialism and empire
Phyllis Bennis, a fellow with the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, notes that imperialism and empires comprise an old story – "the story of a strategically unchallenged domination, at the apex of its power and influence, rewriting global rules." She goes on to relate how "Two thousand years ago, Thucydides described the conquering of the island of Mylos by the Greeks in order to ensure stability for the Greek empire's 'democratic' golden age. The [inhabitants of the island] asked, 'What about democracy?' And the Greeks responded, 'For us there is democracy; for you there is the law of empire.' The Roman empire did the same, creating one set of laws for Rome's own citizens, imposing another on its far-flung possessions. The British empire did much the same thing. And then, at the end of the 20th century, having achieved once unimaginable heights of military, economic, and political power, it was Washington's turn. It remains for us, in the United States, to bring an end to empire and a beginning of a search for real democracy in its stead."
The disappearances at Hanging Rock as symbolic of transcendence and liberation
Film critic Neil Rattingan notes that the girls who vanish on the Rock "appear to go to their fate with calm assurance, even eager acceptance." Indeed, those who disappear on the Rock do so precisely because they are able to and want to. The film clearly presents each one as an individual who has reached a certain level of consciousness whereby they can embrace mystery, take risks, and transcend restrictive, external norms and conventions. This transcendence is depicted in the film by their disappearance on the Rock.
"Whatever could those people be doing down there like a lot of ants?" muses Marion as she gazes from the Rock to the picnickers below. In answer to her own question she concludes that "a surprising number of human beings are without purpose. Although it is probable they are performing some function unknown to themselves," or in other words, without consciousness.
Helen Morse), the college's French and dancing mistress, that Miss McCraw was not wearing a skirt – just her drawers.
Yet what of those who ascend the Rock but do not disappear? Edith is clearly portrayed as an individual unwilling and/or unable to expand in consciousness and thus transcend restrictive norms and conventions. She keeps her hat and gloves on at all times – even while exploring the Rock. Note too her lack of awareness of the abundance of insect life around her when she states that except for the Fitzhubert party, the picnickers from the college "could be the only living things in the whole wide world." Her "world" and her perspective are clearly narrow. Irma, though more aware and open than Edith, is nevertheless unprepared to completely let go of the world she knows. Until her rescue by Michael Fitzhubert, she is stranded in a nether world on the Rock – unable to go back yet unwilling to follow Miranda, Marion and Miss McCraw whose disappearance can be equated to the overcoming of the ego, or the socialized self, as one grows in consciousness and enters into one's true Self. It is also a disappearance that can be equated to the overcoming of oppressive systems of domination by individuals and grassroots communities.
There is a real sense of betrayal in her words as it is inconceivable to Mrs. Appleyard that anyone part of the ruling status quo would seek any other type of existence. Yet for Greta McCraw, Marion and Miranda, the gaining of consciousness has led them to move beyond the "dependable" yet restrictive parameters of empire.
The letting go of restrictive trappings of external authority and control, intrinsic to such moving beyond, is represented in the film by the girls' discarding of shoes, stockings and corsets, and by Miss McCraw's ascending of the Rock with "no skirt, just les pantaloons."
Liberation, human consciousness, and divinity
The concept of consciousness and the attitude of trustfulness are key here. In his book The Kingdom Within, John Sanford suggests that the divinity of Jesus (like our own inner core of divinity) must be understood in terms of consciousness and wholeness as opposed to infallibility and perfection. With this understanding in mind, it can be said that the historical Jesus was divine because of the profound depth of his awareness regarding his understanding and living out of right relationship – with himself, others and God.
Sanford notes that throughout his life and ministry, Jesus called others to likewise cultivate this depth of consciousness – to recognize and claim, in other words, the sacred within themselves – to be "spirited away," one could say. Trust is a key component of this process and the film reflects this in its depiction of the schoolgirls' trusting ascension of the Rock.
Such a trusting attitude is the hallmark of authentic spirituality, a prime characteristic of a truly spiritual person. As John Haught notes in What Is Religion?, "At the heart of religion there is an attitude of confidence and assurance. Religion is not in the same category of understanding as, for example, knowledge of the multiplication tables [the type of empirical knowledge that Mrs. Appleyard demands of her students]. [Religion] hardly possesses that kind of clarity and distinctness. People do not become religious simply by performing automatic operations in logic. Religion instead is closer to interpersonal kinds of experience and knowledge. The latter require that we risk ourselves by going out to people in acts of trust."
Biblical support for the crucial role of human consciousness in the spiritual journey can be found in the more esoteric writings of the New Testament, for instance the so-called "Quaker" text of John's gospel which reads: "There is that of God in every person." The Quaker tradition in particular, understands this inner sacred presence as a Divine Light that moves to illumine and transform. Another support for the place and role of human consciousness in understanding divinity is John 14:12, when Jesus states: "I am in God, and God is in me . . . In truth I tell you, whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, and will perform even greater works." Yet how are the followers of Jesus to demonstrate their belief? Sanford notes that the Christian tradition's answer is by following Jesus' example of openness and responsiveness to the life-giving presence of the sacred through prayer, reflection and concern for and action on the behalf of others.
For Sanford and others, the Kingdom or Reign of God is not a place but a way of living, a mode of being--one that demands ever-expanding consciousness and thus compassion and justice-making – qualities that are ultimately threatening to empire. He notes Jesus' questioning of his disciples as to who he is, and Peter's response, "You are the Christ." Jesus' subsequent congratulating of Peter is, says Sanford, one that focuses on Peter's spiritual insight. Peter has become conscious, and on this rests both his faith and his authority. Sanford also notes that in the Greek, Jesus calls Simon "Petros," the masculine for "rock," and then refers to "this petra," the feminine form of the word. Thus Peter's authority – and by extension any follower's authority – is founded on the rock of conscious insight. Sanford maintains that accordingly, "wherever this act of consciousness is made, the Church exists."
The response of empire to transcendence and liberation
Fear is clearly driving Mrs. Appleyard's actions – fear of the unknown happenings at Hanging Rock, fear of losing face, of loss of prestige and credibility. Her forbidding of "any idle and morbid gossip about this whole wretched business," for instance, is an ultimately fearful attempt to sure up security for her own sense of self and the prestige of the college – both powerful symbols of order and control, of empire. Her words are reminiscent of the Vatican – the last bastion of imperial power in Europe – and it's forbidding of any within the Roman Catholic Church openly discussing the possibility of female ordination out of fear that such a reality would undermine its authority.
Mrs. Appleyard's words and actions are also reminiscent not only of current attempts in the United States to increase security at the expense of civil liberties, but this same country's long tradition of a mainstream corporate media that, by and large, serves as a propaganda mouthpiece for this nation's empire-building ruling elite – a media that ignores and minimizes dissent.
Yet as Rev. Frank Griswold, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. notes, "The real threat to the U.S. is fear itself. We seem to be developing a paranoia that ultimately will poison the spirit of the nation, making us all suspicious and overly defensive. The truth is, there is no such thing as absolute security. Life by its very nature puts us in a stance of vulnerability. You cannot protect yourself against everything, and no amount of government surveillance or police security or training people to be on the watch for suspicious people will ultimately protect us . . . "
Rev. Griswold goes on to say that: "With respect to the real sources of threats, I think our deportment in the world creates the greatest exposure to anger and terrorist attack. We need to examine our relationship with other nations, particularly those parts of the world suffering from hunger, poverty, and violence. How do our policies, ordered to our interests, affect other nations? How does the export of our culture, often at its worst, undermine the identity and values of other societies? By addressing these and other questions, and not simply arming ourselves, we can protect ourselves most effectively and most authentically."
Sara Waybourne: The personification of those outside the gates of empire
Sara's defiance of Mrs. Appleyard – at times open and at other times silent – marks her as a target for the principal's anger and frustration. Sara is not afraid to say "no," as when she refuses to rote learn "The Wreak of the Hesperus" – an English poem which to Sara, a budding young Australian poet, "doesn't make sense." Sara is also a target of Mrs. Appleyard's fear and wrath as she represents those outside the system of power over which Mrs. Appleyard presides. Unlike the other students at the college, Sara does not come from a family of wealth and power. She is a ward of the state. Furthermore, her guardian, Mr. Cosgrove, is "impossibly overdue" with Sara's tuition fees.
Rachel Roberts' Mrs. Appleyard: A complex, nuanced portrayal
One of the most powerful scenes in Picnic at Hanging Rock depicts Mrs. Appleyard alone in her darkened study just after she has informed Sara of her decision to return her to the orphanage. It seems that Mrs. Appleyard's decision has momentarily pierced her armor for we see her weeping uncontrollably in the darkness. Visually, much of this scene is comprised of camera shots of various objects in the room – a portrait of her late husband, Arthur, another of Queen Victoria – faces that stare out impotently from their gilded frames. In the face of ultimate mystery and our vulnerability before it, the film says, such trappings and symbols of domination and power are of no value.
Meanwhile upstairs, something of great value has been discarded by Mrs. Appleyard – Sara's well-being and life. In despair, Sara chooses to take her own life by throwing herself out of an upper floor window of the college. The film makes it clear that this act of self-inflicted violence has been brought about by the unbearable weight of oppressive systematic violence. What does this say about acts of responsive violence in our world today? Do we seek to identify the oppressive systemic violence that fuel such acts? Are we prepared to identify and address the root causes of the responsive, terrorist violence that threatens us here in the so-called First World?
In one scene we observe Mrs. Appleyard opening her desk drawer to retrieve a glass into which she pours whiskey. Parents are withdrawing their children from the college and Miss Lumley (Kristy Child), a member of the college staff, has just given notice. What's fascinating about this scene is what we see in the drawer. One would expect papers or objects related to Mrs. Appleyard's role as headmistress at an exclusive school. Yet instead, we catch a glimpse of a drawer filled with romantic and girlish trinkets. What is the film saying by this?
Through this crucial scene we are given a glimpse into a dimension of Mrs. Appleyard's personality that she has repressed and hidden away. She's not as different to her charges as she pretends. These objects would not be out of place on, say, Miranda's dresser. Yet she has repressed such objects and thus a part of herself and awareness of shared connection with those around her. The isolation that results fuels and compounds her feelings of frustration and fear. Empire is isolating. Its fear of vulnerability prevents authentic engagement with others and thus positive transformation. Accordingly, it blinds us to the concerns and needs of others, which for a Christian is intolerable as the key tenet of the Christian faith is love of neighbor and thus God.
The Mystical Body of Christ: An alternative to the false-theology of empire
The false-theology of empire is clearly espoused by those in power in the United States. It is, however, life-denying and ultimately self-destructive. A life-giving alternative is one that I was first introduced to through the writings of Dorothy Day. This alternative is the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ. For Day, the Mystical Body includes all of us as there is no human being (and I would say no created object) without the presence of the sacred within. Note how this correlates to our previous discussion on human consciousness as an expression of indwelling divinity. Furthermore the doctrine of the Mystical Body stresses that we are all sisters and brothers to one another. When one of us suffers an injury, we all suffer an injury. Accordingly, when a system of vast unfettered power threatens to tear us, and thus the Body of Christ apart, it must be resisted, challenged and transformed.
Relationl Power: An alternative to domination
Instead of empire's dominating power, Paul King and David Woodyard in their book Liberating Nature: Theology and Economics in a New World Order, advocate an alternative expression of power – one marked by reciprocity and solidarity. They note that the essence of reciprocity is mutual interdependence and responsibility. Thus it is not "power over" but "power with" and "power for." Power liberated from domination has been termed "relational power" by many theologians – a power that aims "not to diminish the other, but to empower all."
Ecosocialism: An alternative to capitalism
As for an alternative to what Dorothy Day described as the "filthy rotten system" of capitalism, Joel Kovel in The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World? advocates ecosocialism which is an updated socialism that sees socio-economic questions inextricably intertwined with the fundamental physical realities of life on earth – realities currently threatened by "death dealing capital."
The death of Mrs. Appleyard
There is an almost insane quality to this constant, driving sound, which of course is intentional and appropriate. For when it finally stops we're left simply with the frozen face of Mrs. Appleyard and a voice-over which informs us of her fate: "The body of Mrs. Arthur Appleyard, principal of Appleyard College, was found at the base of Hanging Rock on Friday, 22nd March, 1900. Although the exact circumstances of her death are not known, it is believed she fell while attempting to climb the Rock."
The implication of the film's concluding voice-over is that to the end, Mrs. Appleyard sought to conquer mystery, failing to comprehend and respond to the alternative, life-giving call to enter into mystery, to let go of the false-security of empire and embrace instead others and thus (theologically speaking) the warm, nurturing Body of Christ.
The eternal threshold
In our own current situation I see the elites of the Bush regime insane with empire-building and trampling on the Body of Christ. Death and destruction reign and as the year 2002 ebbs, seem set to increase. Yet the ultimate outcome of such endeavors can only mirror the fate of Mrs. Appleyard. Although I find myself at times filled with rage, this film reminds me that perhaps like Mrs. Appleyard, those in positions of power in this country are in reality deeply troubled and fearful. How do conscious people – people of conscience – respond? We must gently and lovingly comfort and challenge those who exhibit such fearfulness, trusting that we are all called to incarnate the loving and transformative presence and action of the sacred, all called to be the Body of Christ for one another.
Picnic at Hanging Rock says that transcendence is possible and that we all have a choice to embrace mystery and grow in consciousness, to leave behind the trappings of oppressive systems and scale the sunlit peaks of awareness and life-giving action. It is significant that the film does not end with the compassionless, immobile face of Mrs. Appleyard imprisoned in her world of empire, but cuts to the sun-drenched images from the St. Valentine's Day picnic. The slow-motion images of the picnickers momentarily liberated, on this day dedicated to love, from the confines of Appleyard College, and in particular the image of Miranda embarking on her transcendence, speak powerfully of the eternal (and thus timeless) moment of opportunity to cross the threshold into conscious sacred life – a life that has no need for empire, domination or fear.
Postscript: Mrs. Appleyard at Hanging Rock
And now, at last, after a lifetime of linoleum and asphalt and Axmininster carpets, the heavy flat-footed woman trod the springing earth. Born fifty-seven years ago in a suburban wilderness of smoke-grimed bricks, she knew no more of Nature than a scarecrow rigid on a broomstick above a field of waving corn. . . . When the ground started to rise towards the Rock, she knew that she must turn to the right into the waist-high bracken and begin to climb . . . She could feel the perspiration trickling down her neck under the stiff lace at her throat [and looked] up at the sky faintly streaked with pink behind a row of jagged peaks.
– Joan Lindsay
from Picnic at Hanging Rock
from Picnic at Hanging Rock
At the end of Joan Lindsay's 1967 novel, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Mrs. Appleyard's scaling of Hanging Rock is depicted as the actions of a rageful and frustrated woman who, with a shaking fist and an insane glint in her eye, attempts to take on Hanging Rock itself. Cliff Green's screenplay follows Lindsay's lead. Accordingly, Mrs. Appleyard is simply described as "an exhausted, half-mad old woman . . . an old lady in a long blue coat and gloves . . . wearing a brown hat with a feather in it."
First, however, it needs to be noted that the images on this page will not be found in any currently available version of Peter Weir's film, Picnic at Hanging Rock. Although Rachel Roberts was filmed as Mrs. Appleyard at Hanging Rock, this particular scene was never included in the final film. Thankfully, the footage shot was not lost forever – hence these haunting images of Mrs. Appleyard at Hanging Rock.
The story of the rediscovery of these images is centered on an Australian named David Critchley who in 1997 set about compiling a "special edition" of Joan Lindsay's novel – the proceeds of which would benefit the Hanging Rock Reserve. Published in 2002, the end-result of Critchley's labour-of-love is, according to Michelle Griffen of the Melbourne newspaper The Age, "a gorgeous coffee-table book of the original Picnic at Hanging Rock novel, interlaced with excerpts from Cliff Green's screenplay and illustrated with hundreds of never-before-seen images."
Griffen also notes that in search for the missing scene of Mrs. Appleyard on the Rock, Critchley "discovered the mother lode – the original rushes from the film production, full of unseen footage, kept in three sea chests under a stairwell in a Sydney house. Normally, a film's rushes are destroyed, but in this case they'd been saved from being dumped by a crew member."
Given this paper's contention that Hanging Rock represents consciousness and that those who disappear on the afternoon of the picnic ascend the Rock seeking and gaining liberation from oppressive societal structures, I propose that Mrs. Appleyard, for reasons that perhaps she herself could not fully comprehend or articulate, was drawn to the Rock – drawn to a higher level of awareness. It was the overwhelmingly negative consequences resulting from her previous way of dealing with the mysterious events at the Rock, that faciltated this seeking of greater awareness. Chief among these negative consequences was the suicide of Sara Waybourne – a tragedy brought about by Mrs. Appleyard's uncompassionate treatment of the young woman.
Yet no one is beyond salvation; all can be awakened at some deep, sacred level to the call of liberation. Physically, Mrs. Appleyard perished on the Rock. Spiritually, she was finally freed from that oppressive system of empire which it seems she had spent a lifetime trying to embody – yet at a terrible price. She couldn't even use her own name. She was Mrs. Arthur Appleyard. Thus in a fundamental way, Mrs. Appleyard was oppressed and robbed by the very system she had dedicated her life to serving.
It is this sight, the book implies, that drives the crazed Mrs. Appleyard to leap from the Rock to her death.
Thus rather than taking the easy way out and simply destroying her, I like to believe that the lost ending of Picnic at Hanging Rock shows director Peter Weir undertaking the infinitely more difficult task of depicting Mrs. Appleyard's ultimate transformation.
– Michael Bayly
UPDATE: A Visit to Hanging Rock
Recommended Off-site Links:
In Search of Picnic's Past – Michelle Griffin (The Age, November 20, 2002).
Picnic at Hanging Rock – The Unseen Voices – John Godl (Bright Light Cafe).
Picnic Being the Operative Word: Mrs. Appleyard and Sara in Picnic at Hanging Rock – Kate Bellmore (Reel Club, August 7, 2011).
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
• John Pilger on Resisting Empire
• John le Carré's "Dark Suspicions"
• Tariq Ali Discusses Rudyard Kipling
• Thoughts on Transformation (Part 1)
• Thoughts on Transformation (Part 2
• Thoughts on Transformation (Part 3)
• Threshold Musings
• As the Last Walls Dissolve . . . Everything is Possible