Dreams within a Dream: The Films of Peter Weir

Book by Michael Bliss; Southern Illinois University Press, 2000

From the beginning, one of the major influences on Australian filmmaking was a narrative approach that characterized (some would say crippled) British and American filmmaking as well: melodrama. McFarlane (one of the most prolific advocates of Australian cinema) and writer Geoff Mayer regard melodrama as a genre with "no interior depth to the characterization," and as "an excessive form, with extreme pressure placed on the 'surface' of the text."

One might ask, then, as does Kevin Brownlow in The Parade's Gone By, his study of silent cinema, why melodrama emerged as such a basic dramatic principle in early filmmaking. I believe that the genre was popular because it appeals to the most basic instincts in human storytelling: the desire, derived from biblical tales, to see good and evil displayed in striking opposition. And though melodrama's oversimplifications have their drawbacks, they can also lend themselves to representations of sophisticated issues. The dramatization of the contradictory forces of light versus darkness, reason versus mystery, rationality versus magic in Weir films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave, for example, can be seen as reflecting a melodramatic emphasis, as do the polarized characterizations in such films as Witness ( 1985), Dead Poets Society ( 1989), and The Truman Show ( 1998).

In films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Last Wave, and Gallipoli, blacks--by which term I mean both people of color and individuals of African American descent--or the idea of blacks are used, respectively, to suggest mystery, wisdom, or friendship. Even though Aborigines or people of color are not literally present in films such as The Cars That Ate Paris, The Plumber ( 1980), and Dead Poets Society, their presence is felt in the manner in which the films invoke themes and ideas associated with the Aboriginal realm,

As I point out in chapter 2, one of the underlying themes in Picnic at Hanging Rock is the fear of sex with blacks. Weir would go on to focus on the disparity between the demonstrative sexuality of dark others and whites' repressed sexuality in films such as The Last Wave, The Plumber, and Fearless, in which this quality is present via the strong contrast between Carla's passionate nature and the cool veneer of Max's wife.

Clearly, Kael feels that Weir is doing more than simply romanticizing the film's blacks. Her implicit comparison of the attitudes of white bigots with those of "modern, guilt-ridden whites" suggests that there is very little difference between the two responses. Her assertion about bigots viewing "victims" in terms of "sexuality" is obviously applicable to Weir's work in Picnic at Hanging Rock as well as The Last Wave. Earlier in the review, Kael asserts that The Last Wave embodies an attitude that she refers to as "the white man's burden of alienation."

Given what she subsequently says, the implication is that this attitude is not only an example of self-serving posturing but, quite possibly, a veiled form of bigotry with an overlay of progressive intellectualism.

Many other thematic concerns of Australian cinema emanate from the nature of the nation's consciousness. Although the Australian sensibility derives from the country's origins as a British colony, the Australian national personality, probably owing to the penal background of many of the early settlers, is characterized by a spirit of rebellion. Thus, the typical Australian attitude toward Britain is a mixture of both allegiance and antagonism. In Peter Weir's films, this conflicted response emerges most strongly in Gallipoli, in which the film's two principals, Archie and Frank, respectively embrace and criticize Australia's helping the British during the First World War. Yet this quality of attraction to and repulsion from British culture is also present in Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Year of Living Dangerously. Commenting on the conflicted Australian reaction to British institutions, Neil Rattigan notes Weir is adept at creating credible settings, as is evident not only from the period recreations in films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock and Gallipoli, but also in films with a contemporary setting, such as The Year of Living Dangerously ( 1982) and Witness. Nevertheless, the physical details in Weir's films are secondary to the ambiance that the films create.

Perhaps one of the most important keys to the nature of Weir's films derives from Miranda's voice over statement at the beginning of Picnic at Hanging Rock: "What we see, and what we seem, are but a dream, a dream within a dream."

What is being referred to in this statement is the illusory aspect of existence, the feeling of unreality regarding our sensory and emotional impressions of the world. Such an attitude derives from the notion that what we perceive with our senses is, at best, an unreliable indication of what really exists. The behest, derived from Plato's parable of the cave, is to trust to our philosophic and spiritual intuition to make sense of the world. For Weir, "reality" resides in dreams, in myths, in states of heightened consciousness resulting from exposure to stress, strongly contrary impressions, or strange objects. In each of these cases, along with the characters in the films, we experience psychic displacements that dislodge us from traditional ways of thinking. "What we see, and what we seem"--in other words, what we know through our senses, and whom we think we are--can only be correctly understood through extrasensory or intuitional experiences. Moreover, such an ultra-reality, if perceived, is for both characters and audiences doubly displaced in Weir's cinema: first, because it occurs within the dream-like life that we all (with varying degrees of awareness of this condition) lead; and second, because it occurs within a larger dream-like realm, through literal dreams--or movies, which we may regard as a ribbon of dreams. As both Weir and many writers have observed, the act of viewing films, which involves a passive perception of fleeting images received in the dark, bears a strong resemblance to dreaming.

The psychological reaction toward which Kuhn draws attention is one that artists like Weir must work hard to waylay by creating ever-new and unusual discontinuities that resist being ignored. Weir also uses surrealist technique, as when he juxtaposes elements with disparate implications (such as the lizard moving past a girl's arm in Picnic at Hanging Rock or the radio leaking water in The Last Wave).

However, as Kuhn notes, "in science, as in the playing card experiment, novelty emerges only with difficulty, manifested by resistance, against a background provided by expectation." Weir attempts to preclude this resistance in his audience by situating his visual and verbal incongruities in the midst of stories that themselves have a dream-like aura, and in which the narrative is often concerned with unusual events or situations, thereby doubling the dream effect.

McFarlane and Mayer go on to contend that films such as The Cars That Ate Paris, Picnic at Hanging Rock, and The Last Wave "all make some use of melodramatic structures"; they then refer to the endings of these films (as well as the conclusion of Gallipoli) as "oddly low-key," and go on to contrast them with "the emotional frissons generated by some of [ Weirs] American films."

Hentzi critique seems to point to potential problems with Weir's filmmaking. Hentzi contends that New Age thinking deals in absolutes without defining what it is talking about, and points to Weir's fascination at the approximate time of the production of Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave with the work of Carl Jung, Carlos Castaneda, and Immanuel Velikovsky as suggesting the kind of vague thinking that led to what Hentzi considers the failure of both films to successfully communicate an otherworldly atmosphere. However, to describe in this way the director's technique in these films is to miss the point. It's characteristically Western to insist on art grounded in factual narration and concrete imagery. Yet such an approach is clearly inappropriate if, as is true for Weir, one is attempting to demonstrate that empirical reality is nothing more than a shadow of what is real. One could contend that it's not vagueness but precision to sketch in reality via suggestion rather than assertion, ambiguity rather than emphatic statements.

The "cool" aspect of early films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave--in which love is, respectively, either repressed or absent--gives way to a view in which human affection mediates the conflict between conscious and unconscious urges. The dramatization of the secular love between Guy and Jill in The Year of Living Dangerously yields, in Witness , to a passionate relationship that has religious overtones. By the time of Fearless , love and religion are represented as equivalent.

Although an initial response to the early films might suggest that they were interested in ambiance instead of themes, it's more likely that the heavily visual atmosphere of films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave is the themes. In his later work, Weir created films that blend mood and dialogue, context and action, a combination embodying that fusion of inner and outer forces toward which the earlier films (which may most profitably be viewed as investigations in search of a solution) seem to be working. The later films do not, it should be clear, provide answers to the questions earlier posed; however, they do suggest avenues of further inquiry, all in the service of an attempt to reach a life-affirming fusion of one's body and soul, flesh and spirit, an end successfully achieved at the conclusion of Weir's most spiritually satisfying film, Fearless .

This insight, which affirms that the "uncanny" is always the "canny" or already known, makes it clear that what Weir was working toward in the eerily familiar otherworldliness of early films such as The Cars That Ate Paris and Picnic at Hanging Rock is the necessarily ambiguous answer to the riddle that he persistently poses: what do we really know, and how do we know what we know? A possible answer is to adopt the dream wisdom that does not inquire but merely accepts. Paradoxically, the end point of Weir's inquiries in his films is to lead us to conclude that inquiry is itself unproductive, that acquiescence to the knowledge contained in the subconscious is all.

In Peter Weir's films, the "other" or double appears to the films' whites in the form of the Aborigine, immigrant, or group whose world view is foreign to that of the predominant, white social class. In its milder forms, this attitude on the part of whites manifests itself as fear and uneasiness concerning outsiders or those ideas and concepts alien to one's usual experience; but it may also appear as threats that are either racially based (the Aboriginal realm as a threat to the "purity" of white civilization, a concept implicit in Picnic at Hanging Rock ); intellectual (the outsider as a threat to the white version of history, as in The Last Wave ); sexual (the threats against Jill in The Plumber ); or psychological (threats to the integrity of the self, which appear in films as varied as Dead Poets Society, Green Card, Fearless, and The Truman Show). Perhaps the greatest threat of the outsider is as the representative of a system of thought that differs so significantly from the one held by certain characters in a film that it represents an alternative view of reality. For example, in Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave , the forces at the rock (in Picnic ) and the Aboriginal view of reality that sees nature as an integrated system meant to be respected and, if possible, lived with harmoniously (in Wave ) are alien to the manner in which "white" characters such as Miss McCraw, Mrs. Appleyard, and David Burton--who regard nature as something extraneous to them--live. The different world view of an outsider or outside force, sometimes coupled with antagonistic actions, may also threaten the cohesion of a town or community, and can result in a radical shift in a community's perspective. We see this mechanism in action in the persons of The Cars That Ate Paris's Arthur, who does not share the town's view of cars as objects from which people may profit, and The Truman Show's Truman, who eventually rebels against his town's imposed reality.

As in Picnic at Hanging Rock , Weir isn't above intentionally perplexing the viewer about what is going on in the film. Billy is seen asleep at a table in a bar over a place mat that has classic symbols on it. The scene begins with the sound of a drum that sounds tribal but turns out to be played by a white member of an Irish band. Yet despite this collapsing of white and Aboriginal culture in what seems to be something of a joke, the rest of the images and references in the film are without humor. Unfortunately, such seriousness at times seems pointless and pretentious. The coroner says "there's something about this [Billy's death] that seems strange"; the statement seems clichéd, as does David's saying about the Aboriginal defendants involved in Billy's case that "they're keeping something from me."

When Jung notes, "This is where I differ with Freud. You cannot say [as Freud does, that] the symbol in a dream is merely a facade behind which you can hide and then say what the dream is. The symbol is a fact. . . ," he might as well be speaking for Weir. Moreover, Jung felt quite strongly that to treat dreams with suspicion (in much the same manner as the otherworldly forces or characters in Weir's films--for example, the rock in Picnic at Hanging Rock, the Aborigines in The Last Wave--are regarded by empirically oriented characters as strange) is to commit a serious error of interpretation. "The dream is such a difficult and complicated thing that I do not dare to make any assumptions about its possible cunning or its tendency to deceive. The dream is a natural occurrence, and there is no earthly reason why we should assume that it is a crafty device to lead us astray."

With this insight in mind, we can see that Weir's films, which repeatedly focus on crises of identity, can be viewed as essentially religious dramas of personal discovery; and regardless of whether these dramas culminate in irresolution (as in the girl's disappearance in Picnic at Hanging Rock ).

We can see this structure of descent or passage into an unfamiliar realm present in many of Weir's films. Arthur's late-night journey toward the dysfunctional town of Paris in The Cars That Ate Paris ; the schoolgirls' trip to the rock in Picnic at Hanging Rock ; David's descent into the sewers in The Last Wave ; Frank and Archie's passage into the hellish miasma of war in Gallipoli; Guy's evening walk through a poor section of Jakarta in The Year of Living Dangerously ; the students' evening trips to the cave in Dead Poets Society ; Truman's retreats to his basement in Truman Show --all qualify as night journeys that act as preludes to self-knowledge.

In Weir's films a descent into an underworld rather than journeys into a delightful realm are more common (although this realm may initially appear delightful, as in the picnic to Mt. Macedon at the beginning of Picnic at Hanging Rock ). Moreover, it is clear that the journey does not have to take place at night; the "night" aspect may be figurative, suggesting the traveler's initial ignorance of what is to come.

The writings of Northrop Frye are also helpful in understanding Weir's films. Frye describes one of the prime aspects of comedy in the following way: "the movement from pistis to gnosis , from a society controlled by habit, ritual, bondage, arbitrary law and the older characters to a society controlled by youth and pragmatic freedom is fundamentally, as the Greek words suggest, a movement from illusion to reality."

What we have here is an apt description of the structure of both Dead Poets and its thematic and structural predecessor, Picnic at Hanging Rock. In each film, young people are trapped within a society (represented in microcosm by an educational institution) that is ruled by a series of repressive qualities: habit (uniform dress as well as an obsession with canonical writings); ritual bondage (the binding of Picnic's Sarah; the paddling of Poets ' Knox); arbitrary rules of behavior (the insistence on seemly conduct in both films, each of which features a teacher telling students to stop acting unruly); and, most significantly, the tyranny over the young by older characters whose restrictiveness is opposed by the presence and actions of younger, Weir has quite distinct thematic concerns, but he is reluctant to be singled out as having a prominent "signature." Although in early films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave Weir employed a great many stylistic devices (whose use he freely acknowledges) such as slow motion, gauze shots, and heavily stylized soundtracks to communicate his themes, he subsequently claimed to repudiate this approach in favor of what he refers to as a more 1940s, invisible mode of directing. 129 However, Weir doesn't really seem to have changed his method of directing so much as changed the way in which he views it. The overt stylistics of the early films, which Weir now seems to find embarrassing, have yielded to an aesthetic approach in which serving the needs of the film's story comes before pleasing the director's taste for stylistics. In this respect, Weir's 1986 comment on the different visual style of Witness seems quite appropriate. Noting that Witness 's look "comes very much from Flemish and German paintings," 130 Weir comments, "its a case of using one's talents to serve the idea rather than imposing a style overall."

As it will in Weir's subsequent feature, Picnic at Hanging Rock , the landscape assumes significance in the film, although the treatment of the landscape in Cars is somewhat different from that of Picnic . Where in the later film the outback represents nature as both threat and supportive system, in Cars the landscape is decidedly dangerous. Despite the idyllic view of Paris that Arthur and his brother perceive on their way to the town, Paris is ultimately revealed as a homicidal community with none of the redeeming qualities of Picnic at Hanging Rock's outback. As Brian McFarlane notes, the notion of culture clash resulting from the intrusion of an outsider into a self-sustaining, hermetic environment is a quality characteristic of Weir films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock , The Last Wave , and The Year of Living Dangerously . Additionally, the intentions of Picnic at Hanging Rock , Weir faithful adaptation of Joan Lindsay's popular novel, are clear from the film's opening title, which informs us that the story to be told concerns the disappearance of a group of schoolgirls at Hanging Rock.

On Saturday 14th February 1900 a party of schoolgirls from Appleyard College picnicked at Hanging Rock near Mt. Macedon in the state of Victoria.

During the afternoon several members of the party disappeared without trace . . .

The key point implied in this title is that no one has ever been able to determine what happened to these young women. The film's predominant, announced characteristic, then, is one of intentional mystery, not in the service of vagary but as an encouragement toward an awareness of what Weir conceives of as the natural tension between the material and spiritual realms. Simultaneously, Picnic informs us that the boundary between these realms is at times so fragile as to make it difficult to affirm the one while denying the other for very long--that, in fact, the realm of the mysterious repeatedly infringes upon that of the real, defying attempts to explain it rationally. Weir insisted in an interview that he was not primarily concerned with the film's supposedly sexual subtext: "I was never really interested in that side [sexuality] of the film. I didn't' see it as part of its theme."

Nonetheless, it's hard to deny that the film's depiction of a clash between the empirical and spiritual realms parallels the conflicts between its portrayals of repressed and expressed sexual behavior as well as the opposition between the personality of characters such as the school's headmistress, Mrs. Appleyard, and the mathematics instructor, Miss McCraw, who tend to deny sexual forces, and those of some of the schoolgirls, who seem to be yearning to act on their desires.

Yet its in the very nature of the repression that we also get a hint of the larger theme with which the film deals. Since repression involves suppression of psychological and mythological qualities in favor of culture-dictated values, it represents a tearing asunder of a natural continuity between perception and impulse on the one hand and understanding and action on the other--essentially, the rending of a whole consciousness into artificially segmented parts. In this respect, Weir comment that he was only interested in the film's sexual subtext as part of a greater scheme of awareness ("For me the grand theme was Nature, and even the girls' sexuality was as much a part of that as the lizard crawling across the top of the rock. They were part of the same whole; part of the same question") 2 does not contradict his previous assertion so much as place it in context. The statement implies that what Weir is working toward in all of his films is a restoration of a sense of awareness that accepts all things as part of existence. What appear to be violent and disturbing events in the directors films (e.g., the disappearance of the girls in Picnic) actually represent an attempt on the part of natural forces to reestablish a sense of order. Read in this way, the film's denouement, with Mrs. Appleyard dead and the school (presumably) disbanded, becomes a return to normalcy.

Most writers on the film have commented on the sense of irresolution that characterizes it. 3 Certainly, this aspect, a quality with which I will deal later, is a significant part of Picnic's aesthetic texture, but it is obviously not the film's main attribute. If it were, why would Weir announce the irresolved nature of the disappearances so blatantly at the film's beginning, which would cause the ensuing film to act as little more than a foregone example of what has already been asserted? Instead, we must step a bit away from the mysterious disappearances, if only for a while, in order to discover the film's central concerns.

Although the opening title tells us that it is the first Saint Valentine's Day of the twentieth century, Weir immediately thrusts us into the actions and trappings of a school and milieu that look as though they haven't' acknowledged the passage of time at all. The sense of stolidity at Appleyard College, which is about to be challenged by the events at the rock, is made apparent in the camera work of the film's opening shots. Like the incongruous, British-oriented school set down in the Australian bush ( Joan Lindsay refers to the college as "an architectural anachronism"), 4 the camera at first is stationary, unaffected, a quality that is then challenged by a slow dissolving of images into one another as though the change in images were part of some natural process. Indeed, throughout the production, Weir is heavily reliant on the visuals to supply not only significance but diversion: having virtually no story to tell, Weir must count on the sense of atmosphere to communicate the majority of the film's meanings, which, as is customary with the director, deal with doubles, repression, and social and sexual displacement.

Many of the film's attributes derive from the genre in which it is working. Commenting on the period film in Australia, critic Graeme Turner notes that these films qualify as a particular sub-genre: films set in the past, foregrounding their Australianness through the re-creation of history and representations of the landscape; lyrically and beautifully shot; and employing aesthetic mannerisms such as a fondness for long, atmospheric shots, an avoidance of action or sustained conflict, and the use of slow motion to infer significance.

Yet it's obvious that the other films that Scott Murray, who uses Turner's quote, cites as sharing these characteristics are quite different from Weir's film in intention and execution. Neither Ken Hannam Sunday Too Far Away, with its gritty realism, nor Fred Schepisi The Devil's Playground ( 1976) and Gillian Armstrong's My Brilliant Career ( 1979), partake of the overt lyricism and explicit fascination with the unknown that Weir's film does. It would perhaps be better, then, to view Picnic at Hanging Rock less as a period film than as an investigation into metaphysics that uses a period setting as the basis for its dramatics.

I will begin by concentrating on the film's sexual aspect. In addition to the romantic overtones of the date on which the film's opening events take place is the fact that the holiday stems from the actions of two third-century priests whose martyrdom led to conversions to Christianity. The disappearance of some of Picnic's schoolgirls occasions a comparably violent shift in perspective. 7 Additionally, it is relevant that the entire school, with the exception of a gardener, a handyman, a maid, a driver, and an all-female staff of teachers, is made up of post pubescent young schoolgirls. Thus, sexual potential is everywhere. The fact that the school is a preparatory institution implies that its students are poised on the brink of self-realization, thereby opening up the story to the possibility of change. Like the precipices that they encounter at the rock, the girls seem ready for a shift or fall, and the placement of the action on a day commemorating the death of a martyr to a religion that emphasizes love makes the voyagers candidates to be similar martyrs to passion. Despite the affair between the school's handyman and its maid, the atmosphere at the college is similarly poised for a change, especially given the powerful sublimation of desire inherent in the girls' playing at love by sending valentines to each other, evidence of a constraint that corsets the girls' emotions as stringently as their bodies are reined in physically, while their behavior is similarly drawn in, in accordance with Old World behests that they at all times act with decorum.

The girls are thus compelled to experience a violent split between their emotions and activities; they do little but quote love poems and fantasize about idealized romantic encounters. The only depicted passion at this point is that between Sara and Miranda (as ineffectual a love as the one we see later: Irma's fixation on Michael). 8 Sara's idealization of Miranda goes beyond a schoolgirl crush to suggest in its intensity a characteristically Victorian longing for a spiritual union beside which even sex would be inadequate. These girls--one dark haired, one blonde; one orphaned and virtually destitute, the other from a nuclear, well-to-do family--make up only the first of many counterpart pairs in the film. Yet what may be Sara and Miranda's most significant quality is the class to which each girl belongs. Sara is lower class; Miranda is obviously upper middle class. The split between them hints at the social critique that becomes one of the film's central concerns, especially given the way that only the lower class characters are granted forthright sexual expression. Yet since we know that it's only by virtue of its period setting that such archaic distinctions are made possible, Picnic by its very nature contains within it the seeds of its own destruction in a manner comparable to the way that the conscious forces in the film, those allied with mathematical precision, order, and rationality, must inevitably yield to the unconscious, which is associated with freedom of action. In essence, the power of the rock, which is based on forces that cannot be either measured or explained, is fated to predominate in the film: by stopping the quaint watches that try to measure out that which is timeless, by frustrating the guardians' attempts to have the students take a "safe" excursion on the rock when what the girls really want is to break loose and be free, by wreaking havoc upon those members of the party who are either too ethereal (Miranda) or too idealistic (Marion) to be left undisturbed, leaving behind only the most mediocre of characters (Edith most prominently).

The notion of time as a human rather than natural construct is one of the film's major themes. It's not just the influence of the magnetically oriented rock on the timepieces of the driver and Miss McCraw that suggests the vanity of humans attempting to take the pulse of the universe. This aspect is also present in the ticking of the clock in Mrs. Appleyard's office, with its heavy intimations of fatality and doom, a sound that has its corollary in the sounds of the search party slapping sticks together when searching for the girls, which is itself a duplication of the sounds made earlier by Edith, who rapped a stick against the sides of the rock as the girls wandered off onto it, a similarity that suggests a collapsing of different time schemes, a quality that Picnic repeatedly employs.

Opposition, which is the governing principle in the film's first half, arises from the clash between many paired concepts: the school's outdated, Old World conservative values versus the wildness of its surroundings; male versus female; the antagonism between civilization and nature (emblematized in the image of the picnic cake with ants crawling across it); the clash between idealized as opposed to actual sexual relations; the conflict between the attempt to measure universal forces (Miss McCraw's desire to survey the rock mathematically) as opposed to the ungovernable power of the rock itself, which is beyond all of these tendencies. What predominates, though, is the ineffable, unclassifiable power of natural forces.

One of the reasons why Weir concentrates so much on natural surroundings in Picnic is not only to contrast them with the staidness and artificiality of behavior encouraged at the college, but also to establish a uniquely Australian "feel" to the area in which the college is located. Brian McFarlane quotes "Australian poet and literary critic" Chris Wallace-Crabbe: "One way to escape the European ghosts that lean over one's shoulder and jog one's pen is by paying careful attention to the facts of immediate environment: the artist can forget mistletoe and oak in his observation of paperback and pepperina."

In a sense, then, one of the many subjects that Weir explores in the film is that of the Australian national identity, which, judging from the indeterminacy of the film's events, is characterized by confusion resulting from the conflict between the British origin of many Australians and the influences occasioned by the country's remote location and its native Aboriginal culture. Equally important is the film's view of nature, which is conceived of as both inviting and threatening. As McFarlane notes in a statement that echoes the tenor of Mrs. Appleyards warning to the departing girls, "a picnic in the Australian bush is an idyll that should be undertaken cautiously: the landscape may look passive from a distance but up close it may be fraught with danger for the uninitiated."

The association of the Aboriginal realm with the forces of nature is not only a characteristic of later Weir films such as The Last Wave; it is present in Picnic as well, since Hanging Rock is situated near Mount Macedon, which is regarded as sacred by Australia's Aborigines. What Picnic cites, then, without actually including them, are the dark "others" who emerge in subsequent Weir films; their presence in Picnic, which is exaggeratedly Caucasian in conception, is made manifest both by their virtual invisibility in the film (there is only one Aborigine in Picnic, who is seen in a very brief shot) and their association with the rock. As a consequence, the journey into the outback, which is also traditionally considered an Aboriginal domain, becomes a confrontation with the symbolic dark realm that the materialistic and empirical whites in Weir's films so fervently attempt to deny through their eccentric rituals, garden parties, repressive education, and suppressed longings. Thus, Picnic's coachman, Bertie, who at times seems a bit too obviously a representative of lower-class primal forces (he appears to be an innocent version of The Plumber's Max), inadvertently highlights the sexual repression of his counterpart, the upper-class Michael, by pointing out that whereas both of them are physically attracted to the schoolgirls on whom they spy, he gives voice to his desire.

Those who come in contact with the rock either disappear or return mute about their experience: silent like Irma, reticent like Edith, dazed like Michael. It's almost as though, like the film's watches and clocks, the youths have had the delicate balance of their internal mechanisms disturbed. The trip to the rock is repeatedly identified with some sort of venture into an untamed, virtually Edenic region, an aspect present in the shot in which a lizard, in the midst of a lovely oxymoronic image that combines wildness and refinement, moves past the exposed arm of one of the recumbent girls. Yet the area around the rock is conceived of by repressed humans in negative, postlapsarian terms: thus Mrs. Appleyard's warning that the region is redolent with "venomous snakes and poisonous ants." However, the key statement about the trip is, again, Mrs. Appleyard's when she says that she expects the girls to avoid "any tomboy foolishness in the manner of explorations, even on the lower slopes," a comment that not only links daring and aggressiveness with a male-associated impulse (from which the school presumably protects the girls) but also implies through its use of the phrase "explorations on the lower slopes" a tentative inquiry involving the genitals, a notion that lends to the trip a hint of a sexual adventure into the unknown--in essence, a loss of virginal innocence.

In fact, the film dramatizes a very significant kind of anxiety concerning the girls' trip. Given the Aboriginal association with the rock, Mrs. Appleyard's trepidation about the excursion can be read as a fear of miscegenation: the disappeared girls are spirited away into the rocks' dark crevices. As a result of the trip, the dark-haired Irma, the only girl to be recovered, who returns to the school in a dress whose red color is sexually suggestive, finds it impossible to effect a union with a white, fair-haired male. She may, indeed, be physically "intact," but in a psychological and, perhaps, moral sense, she is tainted. Bias that is both racial and class-based applies to Irma's counterpart, Sara, who is also dark-haired, and who is singled out for punishment because she rejects traditional white culture in her refusal to memorize the poem by Felicia Heymans, preferring instead her own, passionate verse. Cursed by the combination of her dark hair and poverty, she cannot hope to be integrated into the schools upper class white society. Like Neil in Dead Poets Society, also characterized as an outsider, she decides that in response to the abuses that she is compelled to suffer, suicide is her only option.

The presumptuousness of the attitude that humans are meant to rule over and be served by nature rather than live in harmony with it is strongly related to the hubris of characters like Mrs. Appleyard and Miss McCraw, and it is clear that the inability to completely dominate some of the girls, especially the shy and virtually wordless Sara, frustrates some of the college's staff to such a degree that they become sadistically abusive with regard to her. Their major attempts to subdue the girl, either through trying to have her memorize poetry, denying her food, or binding her to correct what they feel is her reprehensible stoop, smack of a desire to subdue willful forces that becomes a corollary for these women's attitude toward nature, thus identifying the girl with universal forces.

Miranda's statement that "everything begins and ends at exactly the right time and place" might also seem to be part of this continuity of presumptuousness were it not that its underlying intention is to express that there appears to be an order to the universe that somehow seems appropriate, a statement that links up with Marion's observation that the upper-class Fitzhuberts, also picnicking in the park region (though their formal dress and stiff demeanor make them seem woefully out of place in the natural surroundings), "surely must be fulfilling some function unknown to themselves." However, through its insistent depiction of a breakdown of temporality and causality, and its repudiation of the necessity of functionality (all of which are humanly derived concepts), Picnic makes it plain that, occasionally, events don't have any readily apparent meaning; they just happen. Thus, despite the statement by the wife of the local policeman Sergeant Bumpher that "people just don't disappear . . . not without good reason," the fact is that sometimes they do.

Indeed, in Picnic, not only time and causality but propriety holds no sway. Three of the wandering girls inadvertently prepare for their assignation with the rock by removing some of their unnatural constraints: in an implicit embracing of sexual freedom, shoes and stockings are left behind. Reputedly, Miss McCraw ascends the rock without her skirt; similarly, after Irma is found, she is not wearing her corset. The significance of the loss of these pieces of clothing, the latter especially, is clearly sexual: along with a heavily sugared diet (e.g., the Valentine's Day cake), tight attire was one of the dominant causes in the early part of the century for the delay of sexual maturity among young women, diet and dress inhibiting the onset of menarche.

Less successful in the film is the friendship that arises between Bertie and Michael, which is meant to duplicate that between Sara (who is Bertie's sister) and Miranda, but whose convincing aspect is subverted by the awkwardness of its conception. The split between the sexual attitudes of the classes had already been shown in the contrast between the girls' repression and the sexual expressiveness of the school's maid and handyman; it wasn't necessary to repeat it in the distinction between Bertie's ribald comments and Michael's embarrassed glances at the girls. More effective are the discontinuities that the two young men's stories introduce: Bertie incognizant of his sister's presence at Appleyard College, Michael unable to recall precisely how many of the girls he had seen. Reliable information, then, seems impossible to obtain in mysterious circumstances or places. To frustrate our attempts at rational explanations, Weir fills the film with intentionally inexplicable events: How did Michael get the torn fabric of one of the girl's dresses in his hand? Why do Michael and Bertie have so much difficulty ascending the rock? Like the virginity of the returned girls, the mystery of the film remains "intact." At Picnic's end, when Weir disturbs conventional chronology by repeating the shots of Mademoiselle de Portiers and Miranda waving to each other but reversing their original order, he also reinvokes one of the film's most interesting shots. When they had first reached the vicinity of Hanging Rock, Miranda had climbed down out of the carriage and unlatched the park gate. As she did so, a group of parrots started screeching and flew up into the air. Weir dissolves between shots of the flying birds, which first seem to fly in one direction, then another, and shots of Miranda. When he brings back a shot of Miranda from this sequence at the film's end, he freeze-frames on her turning away after waving goodbye. With the back of her head to the camera and her hair flying away from her head, she herself seems like a winged creature (very close to the "angel" that Mademoiselle de Portiers had called her) about to take flight out of the mundane universe and into a mysterious, dream-like realm in which she becomes one with the unrepressed forces that underlie all of Picnic's action.

The film's only major drawback lies in the fact that it encourages us to draw a connection between the girls' disappearance and the abusive actions of Mrs. Appleyard, suggesting that the collapse of the school and Mrs. Appleyard's subsequent death are the karmic result of the headmistress's stern behavior toward some of the girls, Sara in particular. Such a conception, while it may satisfy the audience's desire to see some form of justice meted out, introduces an element of suggested causality, thereby violating Weir's apparent intention to demonstrate that the film's events are beyond explanation. Indeed, in one version of the story that was under consideration for scripting, Mrs. Appleyard's journey to the rock and eventual suicide were to be depicted, a literalism from which Weir wisely withdrew. Unfortunately, the film retains the events, albeit in narration.

One of Picnic's overriding qualities is the emphasis on the camera's privileged view, by virtue of which it functions as a curious but, ultimately, morally disinterested outsider, regarding incidents and characters but not intruding upon them. Early in the film the camera, in the persona of a detached detective, establishes the tone of the film's latter half, which is that of an investigation, one not involved with inquiring after objects (as in The Last Wave) or examining photographic renderings (as in The Year of Living Dangerously) but rather merely observing a series of conditions for which Weir refuses to provide any explanations. (Indeed, Weir and Joan Lindsay decided to not even discuss with critics whether or not the events on which the book and film are based actually occurred.) Repeatedly in Picnic, we either see characters (who are often hidden) staring at others (as when Michael and Bertie surreptitiously watch the girls) or experiencing unique visions (e.g., Miranda's sight of Sara, a dark silhouette against a bright sky, standing on the school balcony). Perhaps more intriguingly, we tend to catch characters at visually unusual moments. In these shots, which draw attention to themselves by virtue of a camera placement that, with regard to sight lines, is notably artificial, the camera eye is placed on axis for the audience (in order to render an image for us) but off axis if we consider the image that the character being filmed would be seeing. Thus, at one point, Miranda, who is sitting in front of her large mirror, is also positioned in front of a small oval desk mirror. In order to have Miranda's face appear in the small mirror for us, though, Weir has to set up the shot so that the sight line for Miranda is off axis for her character. Consequently, what Miranda would actually see if she glanced into the small mirror would not be herself but the camera--the mechanical, dispassionate other--looking at her. The audience is thus placed in an unusual, ambivalent state of mind, at once inside the film's fiction (when we ignore the situation with the sight lines) and outside it (when we are aware of the ploy Weir is compelled to use to achieve his shot). As a result, we experience a disturbing simultaneity of contradictory forms of awareness, just as many of the film's characters do when they cannot reconcile the girls' disappearances with what they know of "reality."

Similarly, later, on the rock, when the four ascending girls pass by a fissure, the camera (looking out at them from within the rock, and thereby embodying the point of view of the rock's inner presence) is once again directly implicated, this time as voyeur, perhaps no more so than when, after the first three girls have passed by the camera and before Miranda walks by, the speed of the images perceptibly slows, thus abruptly pulling us out of the dream-world fiction of the film and into an awareness of the mechanical realm that makes such an effect possible. This doubling of awareness presages the doubling of comprehension at the rock, where the apparently indifferent stone actually houses an ethereal force that makes itself manifest in dream-like images, the tone of which will reappear in films such as The Last Wave and The Year of Living Dangerously.

Picnic's overt acknowledgment of the filmmaking process prepares us for the other doublings that occur later in the film that, like the previous ones achieved through mechanical means, make reference to two worlds operating simultaneously. At one point, Michael, cued by looking at a swan, envisions Miranda (whom he sees in an internal revery). Bertie begins after many years to once again think about his sister after being prompted by dream images (which, unknown to Bertie, foretell her suicide) that he says are seen through a kind of haze. (This quality not only alludes to the yellow gauze filter through which the entire film was shot but also refers us back to Michael's ruminating on the mystery of the girls' disappearance while staring at Irma through the netting that surrounds her bed, both gauzy elements acting as objective corollaries for the ghostly atmosphere that separates the material from the dream/ subconscious/repressed world.) At these junctures, we experience along with the characters the feeling of simultaneously being in the material and dream realms, both of which are operating within the context of the larger dream that is the film. Neither Michael nor Bertie, though, is able to recognize that their dream-like or literal dream images are attempting to speak to them; their ignorance of the reciprocity between the conscious and unconscious realms is as great as Sara and Bertie's incognizance of their proximity ( Appleyard College is quite close to the Fitzhubert estate, where Bertie works). The implication being made here is apparent: to increase our awareness of events that are often vital; we must allow commerce between the conscious and unconscious spheres. Failing this, we are fated to experience the sense of loss and separation that characterizes so much of the film.

When Michael begins to think about a swan while Sergeant Bumpher is questioning him, Weir dissolves from a view of Michael's face to the image of the swan, then cuts to a shot of Michael looking at the surface of a lake. This last shot, though, takes place at an entirely different time, during one of his uncle's picnics. These three shots manage to make a number of significant points: Michael has somehow intuited the connection between Miranda and a swan that is made concrete in the porcelain swan Sara has placed on her dresser in front of Miranda's photo (the girl has, in essence, built a shrine to her lost friend), a fact that testifies to the film's repeated insistence on a form of communication among people that transcends physical boundaries. Moreover, by cutting to a view of the lake without first establishing where (or precisely when) the shot is taking place, Weir collapses the conceptual distance between disparate times and places, thus encouraging us to minimize the usual distinctions that we make regarding the location and chronology of events, a quality typical of the manner in which we often experience things in a dream.

The character

the film who seems most allied with the dream realm is Miranda. Although her early, ambiguous statement to Sara that "you must learn to love someone else apart from me . . . I won't be here much longer" seems prescient in light of her later disappearance, the girls attitude toward life is clarified through her quoting Edgar Allan Poe's poem "A Dream Within a Dream," two lines of which she incorrectly recites at the film's beginning.

anda states, "What we see, and what we seem, are but a dream, a dream within a dream"; yet Poe's lines read, "All that we see or seem / Is but a dream within a dream" (emphasis in original).Although Miranda adds an additional "dream" to emphasize the rhyme, the major significance of the change that she makes derives from a further modification that subtly alters Poe's meaning. Poe's poem is a response to the torments that occur when one parts from a lover. The poem's speaker consoles himself about the loss of his love by asserting that to lose something as apparently substantial as love should not be painful, since everything, including love, is dream-like and therefore fleeting. The poem, which is in two stanzas, moves from an initial assertion about dreams that provides a modicum of consoling certainty to a final line in which the tone shifts from the categorical to the inquisitive: "Is all that we see or seem / But a dream within a dream?"

like the poems speaker, Miranda feels comfortable with her view that life is doubly abstracted. For her, the things that we see, and the people whom we seem to be, are a dream within a dream. This powerful dream state does not represent to her a condition of anxious unreality but one of super-reality that makes the empirical world seem pale by comparison. Like her previously mentioned assertion about things "begin[ning] and end[ing] at just the right time and place," Miranda's statement from Poe (which is the film's first line of dialogue), coming as it does from the most ethereally beautiful of all the school-girls, identifies her as the most appropriate member of the school to be painlessly spirited away by the rock until she is made one with the universal forces toward which she has all along been drawn.

audience partakes of oneiric feelings as well. Through the camera as inquiring presence, we become dream-like observers of otherworldly events; and later, when the action moves to the ascent onto the rock, the camera itself seems to swoon under the magnetic influence of the rock's towering presence. This effect is most notable not only in the pivot-pan shots of the rock but in the 330-degree pan that Weir uses as the girls are ascending the rock and during which, for the majority of the pan, he shifts attention away from the girls, at once invoking the natural context within which the girls are moving as well as drawing attention, after the pan is complete, to the progress they made while the camera was off somewhere else, taking in the landscape. Like Mademoiselle de Portiers, so strongly affected by her high regard for Miranda that she has a Botticellian vision of the girl, the camera itself has been overcome by the incongruity of these beautiful young women set down in the middle of the outback.

ing the picnic, when Miranda gazes through a magnifying glass at a flower, the notion of the investigation of a natural mystery asserts itself. As in so many other Weir films ( The Last Wave, The Year of Living Dangerously), characters, intentionally or otherwise, sift clues for answers. (Thus the statement of the gardener, who shows the handyman a natural wonder [the apparently intelligent movement of a mimosa], that some mysteries don't have answers, precisely the stance that the film takes.) In a sense, though, Weir does provide some form of response to the obsessive inquiring that the film is constructed to provoke. On the rock, Edith, despite promising not to, starts complaining about being tired and hating the ugliness of the surroundings, to which Marion says, "I wish you'd stop talking for once," by which she seems not only to be replying to Edith's whining but commenting on the inappropriateness of any kind of speech while on the rock, since the area's overpowering sense of just "being" easily dwarfs the power of language to express its existence. As in The Last Wave, we're meant to understand that language is incapable of doing anything other than providing a pale simulacrum of only part of the world--that it is, in Platonic terms, a shadow of real things, indeed, a shadow of shadows, since all that it can do is attempt to establish some sort of relation between what we perceive (which is itself partial and shadowy) and how we communicate it. 25 There's no solution to the mystery in Picnic precisely because its' inappropriate when dealing with nature to expect it to reflect a human conception of reality. In Picnic's view, the mystery is not the girls' disappearance so much as the strangeness of the attitude that there must be an explanation for everything. As Weir notes about the film's lack of a traditional ending,

My only worry was whether an audience would accept such an outrageous idea. Personally, I always found it the most satisfying and fascinating aspect of the film. . . . I did everything in my power to hypnotise the audience away from the possibility of solutions. . . . There are, after all, things within our own minds about which we know far less than about the disappearances at Hanging Rock. And it's within a lot of the silences that I tell my side of the story.

Its precisely in these special silences, the portions of the film in which dialogue is absent and images and sound prevail, that Picnic tells its tale. The film's emphasis on sights and sounds elevates these aspects to a primacy of meaning, so that Marion's request that Edith stop talking becomes the equivalent of John Cage's behest to sit quietly and listen to and watch the world. 28 Rather than frustrating audience desires, Picnic remolds them; we should have no more trouble accepting the film's refusal to provide answers than we should in suspending our disbelief and assigning credibility to its characters, both responses being, to a degree, unnatural and illogical.

It has been suggested that in Picnic as well as in Gallipoli and Dead Poets Society there is a repressed homosexuality in operation. The suggestion seems a misreading of the films that stems from a literalizing of the personal affinities among the characters. Only a reductionist response could make possible the view that closeness among characters of the same sex has a homosexual rather than sororal or fraternal element. Instead, what Weir is dealing with in these films are notions of emotional and psychological bonding. Indeed, its a violation of Weirs entire attitude to allow these kinds of bonding to collapse back into the physical realm that they so obviously oppose. Rather, what Picnic at Hanging Rock manages to do via its distant, gauzy gaze is to push aside the veil between the material and spiritual spheres and, having done so, communicate through its director's ambiguous, ethereal images a clear intuition of the incorporeal realm.

As in Picnic at Hanging Rock , Weir isn't above intentionally perplexing the viewer about what is going on in the film. Billy is seen asleep at a table in a bar over a place mat that has classic symbols on it. The scene begins with the sound of a drum that sounds tribal but turns out to be played by a white member of an Irish band. Yet despite this collapsing of white and Aboriginal culture in what seems to be something of a joke, the rest of the images and references in the film are without humor. Unfortunately, such seriousness at times seems pointless and pretentious. The coroner says "there's something about this [Billy's death] that seems strange"; the statement seems clichéd, as does David's saying about the Aboriginal defendants involved in Billy's case that "they're keeping something from me."

(As Weir said of the visuals in Picnic at Hanging Rock , "what interested me [was] . . . the way hair fell on the shoulder, images--just pictures.")

As we have seen, though, it is unlikely that Weir can successfully repudiate programmatic intention. If he truly had no intention, if life for him was all appreciation and no intellection, he would be unable to function as a filmmaker.

Weir gives the speech about David's alter ego, Mulkril, to Vivean Gray, an actress who in her parts in Picnic at Hanging Rock and in Last Wave is associated with steadfast rationality. In Picnic , Gray's Miss McCraw viewed the trip to the rock as an inconvenient excursion exposing herself and the girls to (in Mrs. Appleyard's words) "venomous snakes and poisonous ants," and, with similar ironic distance, regarded her stopped watch with wry amusement. In Last Wave , Gray returns as Dr. Whitburn, an archivist who delivers a speech about Aboriginal culture and the significance of the stone that David had dreamt about.

If any film reflects Weir's disappointing university experience and his hope that the negative effects of traditional education can be avoided it is Dead Poets Society. Where Picnic at Hanging Rock seems to despair of most of its students escaping from the abuses of their predominantly conservative, abusive instructors, Dead Poets--although it ends equivocally--at least holds out the promise of a willful escape from oppression.

It's also clear early on in the film that Dead Poets is an American version of Picnic at Hanging Rock. There's the same obsession with mythic journeys, the same desire on the part of the students for sexual release from an atavistic, repressive educational institution. Just as Appleyard College is poised on the brink of change, so too is the Welton School, whose values are soon to be challenged by social trends that will bring in the revolutionary 1960s. In Picnic, the students are pubescent girls, ruled over by women, who journey during the day to a phallic rock; in Dead Poets, the students are pubescent boys, ruled over by men, who go on night journeys to a vaginal cave. In both films, sexual awakening and discovery are figuratively represented at the forbidden site during what Joseph Campbell would refer to as initiatory "rite[s] of passage."

But where Picnic at least held out hope for sexual satisfaction in the form of an adult, heterosexual couple with a productive sexual relationship, the only adults of any note in Dead Poets who are in a sexual relationship are Keating, who doesn't even live in the same country as his lover, and Neil's parents, whose marriage seems sexually stillborn.

Each film's central student figures are removed from the action either by disappearances, suicides ( Picnic's Sara and Dead Poets' Neil), or expulsion (the rebel students in Dead Poets), or are in heterosexual relationships that come to naught (Michael and Irma in Picnic, the essentially unreal relationship between Knox and Chris in Dead Poets). Indeed, in each film, physical maturation for the students does not lead to sexual behavior. Although the films are charged with sexual tension, they dramatize a lack of passionate fulfillment that is not completely compensated for by their emphasis on the spiritual and ideal.

Additionally, each film focuses on a canon of approved writings, a sign of authoritarian paternalism at work. Picnic's Mrs. Appleyard insists that Sara commit to memory a poem by Mrs. Felicia Heymans, whom she refers to as "one of our most famous English poets"; Welton School's headmaster, Mr. Nolan, reinvokes canonical attitudes toward poetry when, after dismissing Mr. Keating, he insists that the students in Keating's class return to the staid approach to literature recommended in their poetry booles introductory material, which Keating had characterized as "excrement." The only major thematic distinction between the films is that by alluding to McCarthyism via the "inquisition" that follows Neil's suicide, Dead Poets Society has a political subtext, which is absent from Picnic.

Along with Hentzi, Modleski contends that there is a pronounced homoeroticism in Picnic at Hanging Rock, Gallipoli, and Dead Poets Society.

Certainly one sees a strong affinity among same-sex characters in these films, but is it justifiable to equate affinity with sexual predilection?

What is additionally troubling about Hentzi and Modleski's writing is that their arguments are often supported either through faulty citations or reductionist assertions. With regard to Picnic at Hanging Rock, Hentzi states that "homosexuality . . . becomes a key part of [the films] mystery . . . when one of the school girls who are shortly to disappear without a trace raises eyebrows by calling her companion 'a Botticellian Venus." However, the remark is not made by one of the schoolgirls but by Mademoiselle de Portiers; Miranda is not called a "Venus" but an "angel"; and when Miss McCraw raises her eyebrows in response to this remark, she does so not out of shock or outrage but with the bemused irony that characterizes much of her behavior. 15 Similarly, Modleski maintains that during the investigation into Neil's suicide in Dead Poets, "the boys are called individually up to the principal, who orders them to 'assume the position,' and then paddles them,"when in fact the only paddling that takes place in the film occurs much earlier, when Charlie is disciplined after his stunt involving the phony phone call. Modleski thus overlooks the important distinction between an act of rebellion meant to be taken as a sarcastic joke and serious acts of betrayal about which most of the students who "testify" against Keating feel ashamed.

Bliss : Imagine, though, if you had extended Truman's ending, if you had done what you originally planned to do with the end of Picnic at Hanging Rock, to literalize things, in Picnic's case by showing Mrs. Appleyard's death instead of having it narrated in voice over

Weir : It would have been ghastly. That seemed to me to go against the deep power of what film can do: to suggest, to provoke the viewer's imagination.

Weir : This is, after all, the point: there is this area in some of my films, some more than others, that has to do with the spontaneous, the unconscious. This is a very important aspect to discuss because it's quintessentially a part of my way of thinking, and part of the way that many of my films operate, Picnic at Hanging Rock for example. Acknowledging the importance of the unconscious relates to the way I've seen the world through my life; it's how I express myself.

Bliss : I understand that, as with the new cut of Picnic at Hanging Rock , there are certain changes you'd like to make to some of your previous films.

Weir . Let me answer that parenthetically. I find my own films hard to look at again. You'll often hear filmmakers say this. You move on, your viewpoint changes, you don't like to be reminded of a younger self--whatever it is.

Apparently, Weir also employs what Morrison refers to as "fetishization . . . a strategy often used to assert the categorical absolutism of civilization and savagery". Note, for example, the fears of the civilized Mrs. Appleyard concerning the schoolgirls' trip into a wild, uninhabited region in Picnic at Hanging Rock.

The film's depiction of a clash between an outsider and a strange town repeats certain themes present in Weir first two long films. Michael tells a story of a conventional young man attracted to the alternative lifestyle of the Australian youth culture; Homesdale is concerned with a hunting lodge, whose institutional repressions anticipate those in evidence in Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Last Wave, and Dead Poets Society.

Yet for the sake of his thesis, Murray misrepresents Weir's work: he overlooks the supportive heterosexual relationship in the Australian production Picnic at Hanging Rock between the handyman, Tom, and the school maid, Milly; claims, somewhat oddly, that the casting of Linda Hunt in a male role in The Year of Living Dangerously creates "unsettling reverberations" that compromise the resolution of the affair between Guy and Jill; and states that Witness 's John Book backs away from a relationship with Rachel "for no convincing reason," although it is quite clear from Books statement to Rachel that he refrains from making love to her because of his respect for the irreconcilable differences between their cultures. Meaghan Morris quoted by Scott Murray in "Australian cinema in the 1970s and 1980s," in Murray, Australian Cinema , p. 121.

McFarlane and Mayer divide Weir's cinema along different lines. In their view, what distinguishes Weir's Australian from American films is the American films' reliance upon the classical Hollywood model of melodrama. Commenting on Witness , for example, they note that the film's script "encourages the audience to participate in its narrative 'game' through the regular supply of compositional and generic cues that allow the successive formation of hypotheses with some confidence ". The value-laden rhetoric makes it clear that we're not receiving a critical assessment here so much as a highly idiosyncratic reaction. When McFarlane and Mayer go on to note that "[The series of responses that we have just elucidated] is not possible in Picnic at Hanging Rock and . . . is not encouraged in Weir's earlier films", their bias is clearly revealed. The "earlier films" comprise all of Weir's Australian work. Thus, for McFarlane and Mayer, a film such as Witness is capable of "generat[ing] audience involvement" by using the melodramatic device of a "threat to innocence." Although McFarlane and Mayer admit that the potential for such a device exists in Picnic at Hanging Rock , they contend that this potential is "subverted by the narrative form used in the film". Yet is the threat in Picnic any less real than the one in Witness just because it is implied, not concrete? In Picnic , the threat is an interior one, burgeoning sexuality, which is reflected by, but does not emanate from, the rock. Thus, the film's action stresses psychological forces, thereby allying Picnic with that part of Weir's filmmaking that places a premium on the unconscious (as opposed to empirical) realm.

In a fascinating article on Picnic, Karelisa Hartigan derives parallels between the film and a number of Greek myths, noticing that Mrs. Appleyard functions as the jealous authoritarian Artemis, that the rock has Dionysian qualities, that the swan is involved with myths of transformation, and that it is Pan who, at noontime, seems to pipe a drowsiness over the girls. In Hartigan's reading, Mrs. Appleyard's death represents a necessary function of the rock's magnetic power. "Artemis in South Australia: Classical Allusions in Picnic at Hanging Rock," Classical and Modern Literature 11 :1 (Fall 1990), pp. 93-98.

To make sure that there was no artificial distinction made in the film between the empirical and visionary scenes, cinematographer Russell Boyd (who also shot Picnic at Hanging Rock) photographed the entire film without technically altering the film's images. American Cinematographer noted that Boyd "adopted a photographic style of sharp, cold images, filmed entirely without fog, low contrast or diffusion filters. The effect is completely opposite to the soft, poetic, heavily diffused style of his previous effort, the lyrical 'Picnic At Hanging Rock.'" Photographing The Last Wave, American Cinematographer, 59 :4 ( April 1978), p. 353. Even the scene in which David's wife "sees" Charlie standing outside her house was shot in natural moonlight. ( Russell Boyd quoted in the same article, p. 354).

The theme that composer Maurice Jarre uses at this point resembles the "Ode To Joy" from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony , which played during another essentially triumphant moment: when Keating's students lifted him up onto their shoulders. Viewers may also notice that Beethoven Fifth Piano Concerto , used prominently in Picnic at Hanging Rock, is playing in the background when Todd visits Keating's room.

It would not be correct to assert that Picnic at Hanging Rock fits into this pattern of unwitting denial. As I pointed out in chapter 4, within the context of Australian culture, the film's references to Hanging Rock, which is situated on sacred Aboriginal ground, and its dialogue about Miss McCraw being "raped," clearly refer to fears of miscegenation.


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