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Warning: spoilers ahead for the Picnic at Hanging Rock miniseries on Amazon.
Amazon has brought a brand new kind of mystery drama to streaming video with Picnic at Hanging Rock. The six-hour miniseries stars Natalie Dormer of Game of Thrones fame and provides a new take on the legendary Australian novel of the same name. The story follows the events surrounding the disappearance of three schoolgirls and one teacher on Valentine's Day in 1900, and the six episodes weave a mystery that plays with time and perception, all leading up to an ending that had to tie everything together while still allowing viewers to interpret what they think actually happened.
Picnic at Hanging Rock showrunner Larysa Kondracki spoke to CinemaBlend about crafting the ending and why it was a difficult task, saying this:
It was very hard. I think we were in the editing room for months with that. But also, to be fair, it's not only the ending. That was all sort of done in post, because there's so many famous theories about what happened and then I have my theory and so the whole idea -- and I don't know how much of this you see on the first time, I had always said you never really end up with a specific conclusion but you end up with a very specific feeling. And I think everyone's feeling is gonna be subjective and completely different.
The miniseries ended without giving a definitive answer about what happened to the missing girls and their schoolteacher, which may have come as a surprise to viewers who wanted to be told exactly what happened, exactly who was involved, and exactly how the seemingly impossible disappearances actually took place. Readers of the original Picnic at Hanging Rock novel undoubtedly brought their own theories to the story, and fans of the 1975 film of the same name must have had theories as well. Larysa Kondracki and the team at Picnic at Hanging Rock chose to focus on leaving viewers with a certain feeling rather than a certain set of definitive circumstances.
Larysa Kondracki went on to say this about the elements viewers had to come up with their own theories:
So we have these clouds and you're like, 'Maybe there's a spaceship and they get pulled into different dimensions,' and then there's this dust and Natalie [Dormer]'s there and shadows, and that dust has played throughout all six episodes and there's sounds that kind of get repeated that happen in the future, and so this idea of the conflation of time, it was hard. It was a real balance to pull off.
Thanks to all the work the Picnic at Hanging Rock team did to create a balance in the narrative, there really are no wrong answers to the question of what happened to the girls and their teacher on that fateful Valentine's Day at the Rock. Were they abducted by aliens? Where they whisked away by some supernatural or divine force? Was that dust more than what it seemed? The ending is open for interpretation, and Larysa Kondracki was also emphatic that the important task in crafting the ending was providing an emotional conclusion rather than closure on the events. The characters who may have had an idea of what really happened were dead, disappeared, and/or unlikely to speak up by the end of the series. Many of them don't know what happened any more than viewers will after watching.
That said, Larysa Kondracki shared her own theory about what happened at the Rock with Mrs. Appleyard:
That last line. It's tragic, you know, when she says it was her all along. 'You're she. The widow.' My theory is that none of this actually happens and it's all happened in Appleyard's head and these are girls who are all different versions of who she could have been, and then once she realizes that it's too late, she just ends it.
Mrs. Appleyard is certainly an unreliable narrator throughout Picnic at Hanging Rock, so it certainly wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility for the entire story to have actually happened in her head. Given that Mrs. Appleyard's last act in the series was to jump off the side of the Rock to her death, such an ending is really no less tragic than any other options, and it's another interpretation that invites a rewatch of the miniseries. There are many different ways to look at the ending, some more wild than others.