The Hanging Rock Piper: Weir, Lindsay, and the Spectral Fluidity of Nothing

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"Nothing in life was really watertight"1

Joan Lindsay

It is an axiom of film criticism that no single interpretation of Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock can resolve its insoluble mystery, or what Gary Hentzi labels its plots "central absence" (5). Everett Eugene Corum concurs, adding that Picnics "unclosable situation [is] a result of the director's ambiguity about the events and the metaphors used to describe them" (49). But as Corum rightly observes, Weir's is a "tantalizing ambiguity" that opens Picnic to "possibilities of interpretation" (49). Consequently, given that Weir himself contends with David Castell that "the film is as good as [one's] own imagination"2 (94), one could possibly shed some mythic light on its puzzling proceedings by interpreting them through Marek Haltof s suggestion that Hanging Rock is not only "a sacred Aboriginal ground" (810), but "a symbol of ancient knowledge, in this context comparable with Aboriginal dreamtime" (820). Worth quoting here is Stephanie Gauper's defining admonition: "our term 'dreamtime' is a misnomer [for] the Aborigines define being in terms of place and space rather than time. . . . Dreaming is not a time but a symbol, a location, and a source of energy" (213). Intrigued by Gaupers "earth forces" (216), whom she sees claiming Weir's schoolgirls, this paper attempts to chart the latter s hypothetical trajectory in terms of Amerò Alii 's Hellenic twisting of Dreamtime into an "Aboriginal Neptune" whose constantly shifting waters, obliterating "all sight and perspective," liquefy the abductees into "a state of sightless navigation."3 Hence Weir's cryptic landscape, with its unfathomable fluidity seeping through what Jonathan Rayner aptly describes as a collage of "time-lapse, slow-motion, unexplained voice-over and omnipotent revelation" (56).

Just as thematically crucial, however, is the equally intriguing possibility that Weir, inspired by Joan Lindsay, transmutes his Aboriginal fluid daemon into a Dionysiac_ge»/«i loci. For what Joan Kirkby animistically terms Lindsay s Forsterean "earth spirit" (257), an invisible "living force" (268) lurking in numinous haunts like the Marabar Caves and Hanging Rock, becomes in such classical readings Pan-ically suggestive. Donald Barrett, for instance, conceives Lindsay 's Rock as "[a] metaphor for Pan" (Mythology of Pan 308), and hence her Appleyard picnickers as implicit victims of this Arcadian nymph abductor. So does Karelisa V. Hartigan who likewise senses the Goat-God "castfing] his spell" upon Weir's counterparts through the "haunting notes of the pan-pipe" (97). Significantly, while the typically enigmatic Lindsay4 refrains from corroborating Barren's "Pan" interpretation, she readily endorses Weir's choice of Gheorghe Zamfir's Flûte de Pan as appropriate film music.5 Such an approval indicates that Lindsay concerns herself less with Barrett s query about her alleged "Pan" novel "giv[ing] no hint of Pan the musician" (760) than with her feeling that the film's pipe music is emotionally congenial to "the fatal Picnic."6 But Weir's vision crucially transcends Lindsay s, for his equally hoofless Piper turns a Derridean screw on her immaterial entity by spectralizing into the ghostlier irruption of nondiegetic piping. Michel Chions concept of the filmic acousmêtre or acoustical "phantom" (128) becomes in Picnic a subject of uncanny variation. In fact, by being absently present in Weir's visual/aural diegesis, the Piper mutates into what Jacques Derrida would call "a ghost of the ghost" (126). Shedding even the Rocks "dreadful shape" lumbering across Lindsay s schoolgirls' visionary plain ( 1 33), Weir's impalpable Piper waxes and wanes in an extradiegetic soundscape of flutings that fades into a realm of the inaudible. Weir's Picnic recreates Lindsay s Terra Incognita Australis as an out-of-filmic text, beyond what is seen and heard: the visual/aural hors-champ is virtually its fantastic territory. But this statement can be viewed in truer perspective if we analyze in detail how Weir transcribes the "Aboriginal 'dreamtime' ideas" (815) from which Haltof sees Lindsay molding her enchanted characters into a filmic insubstantiality of spectral sounds and silences. …