Because what we see and what we seem are but a dream, a dream within a dream.
This Valentine’s Day, I’m going to take a moody turn and suggest you celebrate with a party inspired by a true cinematic gem: Picnic at Hanging Rock. This 1975 film by Peter Weir is a total Criterion classic that’s inspired the likes of Sofia Coppola to craft many a siren song to adolescence and repressed female sexuality. For those unfamiliar with the plot, the film tells the story of three schoolgirls and their teacher, who venture out for a picnic at Hanging Rock, a veritable wonderland of freedom and the unknown. Hanging Rock is a place where gloves and stockings are taken off, wilderness is explored, and the minds of young ladies are free to wander–perhaps to the mysterious gentlemen observing them by the stream, or perhaps to more profound insights like “Everything begins and ends at exactly the right time and place.”
The crux of the plot is derived from the fact that the girls and their teacher don’t return home from the picnic. Though their disappearance is explored at great length by a wide array of characters, the mystery is never fully solved. Ultimately, the film poses far more questions than it answers, forming a beautiful ambiguity that was notoriously frustrating to American audiences.
Why, you may be wondering, am I choosing this film for a theme party? Sexual undertones and heavy lace rotation notwithstanding, Picnic at Hanging Rock is prime material for a party on February the 14th because the girls in the film go missing on Valentine’s Day (in 1900, but still). If that’s not a direct missive from Cupid to write this post, I don’t know what is.
THEME: A VALENTINE’S DAY At Hanging Rock
Send campy Valentines to all your female friends inviting them to join you on a dreamy wilderness picnic. Boys are not allowed in any form, but if they absolutely insist on coming they may perhaps be permitted to gaze upon the gathering from a nearby clearing.
Note that friends named Sarah are simply not allowed to attend. All Sarah-types are to spend the day at home, braiding their hair and memorizing poetry.
The concept here is untainted youth circa 1900s Australia. You should begin with a full set of old-school Victorian undergarments, replete with constricting corset laced waaaay too tightly (bonus points if you and your friends all stand in a line and lace one another’s corsets). Top things off with a snow-white dress, starchy tights, and black lace-up boots. Adding gloves and a parasol will enable you to shield your delicate skin from the outside world entirely.
If you think these clothes sound constricting, have no fear. They’re designed to lead up to the scandalous reveal, in which you and your sheilas lose the gloves and roll down those stockings the moment your feet touch the picnic grounds. If things begin to get ratchet up in the foothills, you might even think about unlacing the corsets.
Ask the cook at your all-female boarding school to whip up the most decadent and over-the-top Valentine’s cake she can muster. You need not bring anything else–you’re a lady, after all, and the best way to maintain your figure is by eating pieces of said cake in the sweltering heat at odd intervals.
For liquor, choose an Australian beer in a questionable bottle that suggests a home-brew gone awry.
The natural wonder of your picnic site will provide all the splendor you need to accomplish the most important aspect of this party: the ending. They way you plan the ending will make or break your event, so take heed:
As things begin to wind down, allow 80% of your guests to leave without incident. Send them back to boarding school with the tokens they deserve: dirt on their cheeks and sun-lightened hair.
One the majority of visitors have dispersed, inform the remaining 20% that it’s time for the real fun to begin. While I can’t disclose the events that will lead to the following outcomes, I am telling you that half of these people will return home a week later, covered in odd bruises that suggest ambient strolls through the brambles and zero interaction with the opposite sex. The other half will never return home, leaving the rest of us to scratch our heads till eternity as we while away the hours down under.