Sunday, December 27, 2015

Rear Window

SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window is aptly titled. In the literal sense, L. B. Jefferies (James Stewart) looks at his neighbors carrying on their day to day activities through his back window into theirs. But, on a thematic level, the film shows what it looks like when we penetrate (sexual connotation intended – consider Jefferies phallic appearing telephoto lens) the worlds of people that they would rather keep hidden from the scrutiny of others. As Lt. Thomas Doyle (Wendell Corey) says to Jefferies later in the film, “That’s a secret private world you’re looking into out there. People do a lot of things in private they couldn’t possibly explain in public.”


As usual in Hitchcock’s movies, we are made complicit here in the voyeurism of his main character as he peers into, one may say violates, the privacy of the those living across the courtyard of his apartment. We, the audience, may, at first, be appalled by Jefferies Peeping Tom activities. But, we are drawn in by the same curious desire to watch the stories of others, the more lurid, the better. Hitchcock is saying that not only is this aspect of human psychology universal, it certainly is part of the nature of watching films. He emphasizes this point by reminding us of the connection between films and voyeurism over the opening credits. The camera is directed through the window of Jefferies’ apartment as the shades rise up, revealing the view, just as a curtain would rise, as it did years ago, in a movie theater. The windows of the apartments appear as story boards that are used to plot out a movie story in illustrated scenes. Or, as if different movie narratives are there for viewing on split screens. There are the sexual stories served up with the views of Miss Torso and the Newlyweds; there is the sad tale of Miss Lonely Hearts; we have the desire for success in the plot surrounding the Songwriter; there is the slapstick comedy of the couple sleeping on the fire escape when the it starts to rain; and of course we have the mystery involving Thorwald (Raymond Burr) and his eventually missing wife. When Lisa Carol Fremont (Grace Kelly), Jefferies’ girlfriend, playfully introduces her name she announces it “reading from top to bottom,” the way credits are displayed in a movie. There are mentionings of “opening night” and a “sold-out house,” again reminding us of the audience’s role of being a viewer of the actions of the others, just like Jefferies, and eventually Lisa and Stella (Thelma Ritter), Jefferies’ physical therapist. Earlier on Stella is upset by Jefferies’ peering, and says “We’ve become a race of Peeping Toms,” and should turn our eyes on ourselves; that way, maybe if we saw our own imperfections, we wouldn’t try to expose those of others. But, later she is drawn into the spying, and wants Jefferies’ telescopic lens, saying to him, “Mind if I use that portable keyhole?”





Jefferies is immobilized in a wheelchair with a full leg cast for broken bones sustained during one of his photo shoots. He is a journalist who enjoys putting himself in danger in the field. Hitchcock shows us the picture he took of the car crash he shot which resulted in his injury. So, he is a professional observer who enjoys placing himself in harms way to capture the actions of others. In this way, he is ideally suited for this story because of the dangerous situation he assumes investigating the possible murder across the courtyard. He is at particular risk this time because he cannot escape from his predicament. In a way, his apartment is a prison. This theme of an innocent man at risk of being incarcerated is a continuing theme in Hitchcock’s films, probably going back to the time he was placed in a jail as a child for being a truant to teach him a lesson. He learned it well, only in a different way. His movies show a major distrust of the authorities.

Actually, all of those people Jefferies observes are sort of in their own prisons. The Songwriter is held captive by the need to find that special romantic tune for which he longs. Miss Lonely Hearts is trapped in her emotional isolation, inventing suitors, and accosted by one trying to take advantage of her when she summons the courage to seek a man out. She almost succumbs to suicide. The voluptuous wannabe dancer, Miss Torso, appears to be very popular, but as Stella points out, she must fight off the male wolves to find someone genuine. The newlyweds appear happy, but the groom eventually looks as if he is caught in a sexual prison, going to the window for relief from his bride’s physical demands. And then there is Thorwald trapped in a marriage to a nagging, demanding wife, who is herself an invalid, mostly confined to her bed. All of these stories have romantic relationships at their center.


Jefferies shares in that theme, because he is trying to deal with his girlfriend, Lisa, who wants to get married. She is a city woman who is involved with fashion. He cannot see them together because she is high society and he is always off and running with little warning wearing combat boots, driving jeeps and going to places with scary food options. She refuses to take no for an answer. Jefferies almost seems to want to escape his own predicament by viewing the lives being lived out in the other apartments. But, instead, their romantic stories reflect back on his own situation, giving him no relief. He makes disparaging statements about marriage to convince himself more than anyone else that a union with Lisa is not right for him. He says the Songwriter lives alone probably because of an “unhappy marriage.” He states that he thinks marriage will make him static, unable to be active and go places. However, the irony is that he has become stationary because of his so-called active life. When talking about relationships, Jefferies keeps speaking about them in a logical manner. Stella reminds him that there should not be so much thinking involved in matters of the heart. Jefferies’ defense mechanism is divorcing himself from his emotions.  


Jefferies becomes more and more suspicious, as do Lisa and Stella, as he (we) see Thorwald cleaning a large knife and saw and taking his salesman suitcase of samples on multiple trips at night. Then there is the disappearance of his wife while her purse and jewelry remain behind. Doyle dismisses their suspicions, saying that Mrs. Thorwald was accompanied by her husband to catch a train to visit a relative. Jefferies and the women believe Thorwald was with his mistress, and seek out evidence. Lisa becomes very bold, and her audacity makes her very attractive to Jefferies. She enters Thorwald’s apartment after Jefferies lures Thorwald away with a phone call threatening to reveal his crime. Lisa is surprised by Thorwald, but Jefferies is able to summon the police. In a thematically significant image, Lisa shows she has Mrs. Thorwald’s ring on her left hand. This action shows how she is marriage material for Jefferies, as she is more adventurous than he gave her credit for. But Thorwald sees that she is signaling with the ring, and he looks right at Jefferies’ window. Reversing the roles of observed and observer. This cause and effect also shows how danger is attached to relationships.  



In the end, Thorwald comes for Jefferies while Stella tries to get Lisa out of police custody for breaking into Thorwald’s apartment. Jefferies is able to get a call off to Doyle before his assailant arrives. The photographer is only armed with the tools of his trade – a camera and light bulbs. He keeps flashing them at Thorwald, temporarily blinding him and slowing him down. It’s as if Jefferies has almost no qualms about invading the lives of others (except at one poignant point with Miss Lonely Hearts), but when someone exposes him, he tries to stop them from seeing his world.

Jefferies is rescued by the police, but not after sustaining another broken leg for his precariousness observations. Miss Torso is reunited with her true love, who survives his hitch in the military. The Songwriter finds his love tune, which touches Miss Lonely Hearts when he plays it, preventing her suicide. The two are seen together at the conclusion of their movie (and ours). Love and relationships will continue, even though there will be conflict. The Newlyweds are already sailing rough waters when the bride finds out that her new husband quit his job. And although we see through our eyes (and through the camera lens) this time, not those of the sleeping Jefferies, that Lisa now wears jeans and is reading a book entitled Beyond the High Himalayas, she then puts the book down and picks up a copy of Harper’s Bazaar. These two will be joined, but sometimes in battle in the future. We have vicariously witnessed the dangers and rewards which accompany the interaction between couples, and the shades to the apartment are then lowered, like the curtains at the end of a film.

The next film to be discussed will be Crash.

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