Blissed out on cooler mornings and breaks of breeze, the Northern Hem Virgo Season prepares its golden goodbye from Summer to Autumn. Reminiscent of childhood’s grade year beginnings, eager to learn, a love of books and (admittingly) routine, we make plans for our favorite season, bracing for the occasional hellish hot days that try to hang on. Dabbling in a new project (very Virgo), we present the first of our Femme Film Astro Archetypes, set in the swelter of Australia following students of an orderly, perfectionist academy. We look forward to our ongoing exploration of astrological and elemental symbolism in movies of yore! Note that the text ahead will contain some spoilers for our Virgo film pick.
In the fade, as the weather makes its change, the words of Sarah Helen Whitman resonates:
“When summer gathers up her robes of glory, And, like a dream, glides away.”
Picnic at Hanging Rock is an ethereal and enigmatic tale about a group of schoolgirls seduced by the strange powers of Earth, an environment becomes a character of its own.
Based on the novel published in 1967, Australian author Joan Lindsay had a strong connection to the real-life geological anomaly Hanging Rock in Victoria, poising the events as a true story. Once a place of spiritual significance for multiple tribes driven away due to colonization, Jason Tamiru explained that “the mystique and spiritual essence of the Rock has contributed to the story of our Dreaming, which binds my people to our creator spirits and country.” Though the traditional occupants are not mentioned in the film by Peter Weir, the enigmatic flute that plays throughout the gauzy scenes alludes to an Earth connection humans had to the area before the horrors of colonization. Though there are suggestions of human violence as a culprit to the disappearance of three girls and one teacher from Appleyard College, as the story unfolds, it is clear a much stronger power compelled the women to climb the Rock in a trance-like summoning.
The strange “all-knowing” aura of Miranda as the leader of the adventure, however, does not seem to be lost. Her kind demeanor to even some of the less likable people in her company, reverence of nature and animals, sharing warmth with her inner circle, is exemplary Virgo energy. And yet her cryptic dialogue about the Future and the Past, calm demeanor climbing the Rock, crosses into the role of unassuming mystic. Obsession with time, strict itinerary, arguments over accurate geo-history of the Rock, when all the clocks stop working and the picnic attendees lose track of time… each play theme into Lindsay’s life, perhaps related to the Pauli Effect, psychokinetic abilities or the magnetism of people or places.
Director Peter Weir backs up the claims that Lady Lindsay’s effect on watches was indeed true; both on set and at the premiere, nearby clocks were stopped at specific time frames with no explanation. And though there is a problematic aspect to Lindsay’s position as a wealthy white woman tapping into the spiritual landscape, a common narrative of coming for everything colonialism didn’t try to take, the Rock itself as a central energy is an eerie and important tale about the unseen powers of Earth beyond what can be readily explained. Whether seen as eco-horror or divine un-learning is in the eye of the beholder, though Lindsay’s choice to withhold the last chapter and conclusion of Picnic seals the looming theme of Earth being stronger than humanity’s definitions of time and civilization.
The comparison of thousand of years of Earth, and even further the layers of time, versus the small, minute, painstaking beauty of fragile human life, gone in a flash, seems another popular metaphor. This is perhaps the wildest interpretation that follows a similar but a much more specific analogy:
“The hanging rock is the Rock of Zion. It denotes a deity who is removed from the natural world and who leaves no tracks. Such a deity can only be alluded to by the most implacable, im-penetrable, and unarticulated manifestation of nature.
Sublime and severe, the rock is supremely dangerous; for it takes whatever it wants and offers no explanation. It is power and might without love and grace: the god of an old testament, the Ancient of Days.
To this rock come a band of virgins; the very young girls arrive at the rock, whose 350 million years already terrify them. At midday, when time stops, the knife slices the heart-shaped Valentine cake in half, proleptic penetration of their as yet intact vaginas, intactness which is monitored explicitly through the story. The girls are spring roses and romance; they are all articulateness, beauty, inwardness, passion and preoccupation with self-representation.”British philosopher Gillian Rose
By the end of Weir’s purposefully hallucinatory, mesmeric masterpiece, there are no answers. The dreamy haze settles, leaving further tragedy in its wake, especially those at the academy, driven to madness. Survivor’s grief without answers punctuate the second half of the film and the viewer takes a piece of that longing… for knowing, for closure… left with even more questions, a precursor of “feminine mystery” seen in films like The Virgin Suicides.