Rear Window

Analysis

In his book, Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window", John Belton addresses the underlying issues of voyeurism, patriarchy and feminism that are evident in the film. He asserts "Rear Window's story is "about" spectacle; it explores the fascination with looking and the attraction of that which is being looked at."[12]

Voyeurism

John Fawell notes in Dennis Perry’s book, Hitchcock and Poe: The Legacy of Delight and Terror, that Hitchcock “recognized that the darkest aspect of voyeurism…is our desire for awful things to happen to people…to make ourselves feel better, and to relieve ourselves of the burden of examining our own lives.” [13] The Master of Terror challenges the audience, forcing them to peer through his rear window and become exposed to, as Donald Spotto calls it in his 1976 book The Art of Alfred Hitchcock: Fifty Years of His Motion Pictures, the “social contagion” of acting as voyeur.[14]

In an explicit example of a condemnation of voyeurism, Stella expresses her outrage at Jeffries’ voyeuristic habits saying, “In the old days, they’d put your eyes out with a red hot poker” and “What people ought to do is get outside and look in for a change.”

One climactic scene in the film portrays both the positive and negative effects of voyeurism. Driven by curiosity and incessant watching, with Jeffries watching from his window, Lisa sneaks into Thorwald’s second floor apartment, looking for clues, and is apprehended by him. Jeffries is in obvious anxiety and overcome with panic as he sees Thorwald walk into the apartment and notice the irregular placement of the purse on the bed. Jeffries anxiously jitters in his wheelchair, and grabs his telephoto camera to watch the situation unfold, eventually calling the police because Miss Lonelyhearts is contemplating suicide in the neighboring apartment. Chillingly, Jeffries watches Lisa in Thorwald’s apartment rather than keeping an eye on the woman about to commit suicide. Thorwald turns off the lights, shutting off Jeffries sole means of communication and protection with Lisa; Jeffries still pays attention to the pitch black apartment instead of Miss Lonelyhearts. The tension Jeffries feels is unbearable and acutely distressing as he realizes that he is responsible for Lisa now that he can’t see her. The police go to the Thorwald apartment, the lights flicker on, and any danger coming toward Lisa is temporarily dismissed. Although Lisa is taken to jail, Jeffries is utterly mesmerized by her dauntless actions.

With further analysis, it is understandable that Jeffries’ positive evolution would be impossible without voyeurism—or as Robin Wood puts it in his 1989 book Hitchcock’s Films Revisited, “the indulging of morbid curiosity and the consequences of that indulgence.” [15]


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