There a few films more associated with their director than Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. While other Hitchcock films like, Psycho or The Birds maybe easier to recognize because of their place in popular culture, Rear Window is one of the few films consistently praised as both the director’s best work and one of the greatest suspense films ever made. After it’s release in 1954 the movie was nominated for four Academy Awards, including both best director and screenplay. The famous film critic Roger Ebert review the film in 1983 and said, “This level of danger and suspense is so far elevated above the cheap thrills of the modern slasher films that ‘Rear Window,’ intended as entertainment in 1954, is now revealed as art.” (Ebert)
In 1998, the American film association chose Rear Window as the 42nd best film ever made out of the top 100 (“AFI 100 Films, 100 Years”). Unlike other movies with such high accolades, Rear Window is neither a historical epic or high drama. There is no lush scenery or attention grabbing special effects. Instead, Hitchcock chose to feature one sparse set and a minimal cast. These artistic decisions were not made randomly but instead highlighted the film’s theme of isolation and how it control’s people lives even in a city as crowded as New York.
Famed actor James Stewart plays the film’s main character, L. B. “Jeff” Jefferies. Jeff is a successful, magazine photographer whose job has him travel all around the world at a moment’s notice. The beginning of the film shows Jeff has broken a leg in a racetrack accident. The normally independent and carefree Jeff is now stuck in his apartment, confined to a wheel chair and dependent upon his nurse, Stella, played by Thelma Ritter and his girlfriend Lisa Fremont, played by Grace Kelly. It’s a level of physical isolation Jeff has never known before. Adding to his frustration is the fact that he can no longer run from relationships by leaving town for a job. He is forced to confront the emotional isolation he feels in relationships with characters like Lisa and his detective friend, Doyle. New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther wrote that, “What it has to say about people and human nature is superficial and glib. But it does expose many facets of the loneliness of city life and it tacitly demonstrates the impulse of morbid curiosity” (C3). The bored Jeff is forced to find a new way to entertain himself and takes to spying on his apartment complex neighbors through his courtyard adjacent rear window. If he were not so emotionally and physically isolated, he would probably think eavesdropping was wrong but is disconnected to such an extreme that the thought never crosses his mind. Jeff’s actions are basically harmless until one night he accidently sees a neighbor murder his wife. Jeff is convinced of the murder and spends the rest of the film trying to prove his theory to his companions and attempting to catch his neighbor in some sort of cover-up by watching him even more closely. Although Jeff struggles with his temporary version of forced isolation it actually serves him better then expected. If Jeff had never been peering through his window at the Thorwalds’ apartment it is likely Lars Thorwald would have gotten away with murder (Melani). Even when physically confined Jeff is still determined to be a man of action.
Temporary isolation proves to be a hidden blessing for Jefferies but has the opposite effect for the film’s antagonist, Lars Thorwald. Thorwald works a traveling salesman (Melani). His career, like Jeff’s, is one where a person could easily become isolated. It requires meeting lots of different people and going to many different places but never staying in one place or getting to know one co-worker well enough to become truly comfortable. When Thorwald is not working he spends all of his time caring for his bedridden wife. The responsibility has isolated him from the outside world so much that he almost goes unnoticed by others. During one of the Jeff’s earlier spying sessions he watches various neighbors and gives them nicknames based on physical or personality traits he observes (Crowther C4). Thorwald does not make enough of an impression to even earn a clever nickname from Jeff, whose day now consisted almost entirely of making up nicknames for his neighbors. Thorwald’s isolation helps him remain unsuspected by everyone but Jeff. However, his feelings of isolation began before his crime. Early in the film, Jeff sees the Thorwalds arguing multiple times but is not interested in their bickering. Mrs. Thorwald nags her husband frequently and he responds by either turning to extra-martial affairs or screaming at his wife in rage. Thorwald exhibits the same kind of rage later in the film when he attacks both Jeff and Lisa after being confronted (Melani). An argument could be made that his feelings of frustration, loneliness and regret grew to a point where his emotions overtook Thorwald and allowed him to brutally murder his wife.
- “AFI 100 Films, 100 Years.” American Film Institute. N.p., 1998. Web. 30 Dec. 2015. Beamish, Greg. “Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954): The Limited Perspective of the Voyeur.” The Artifice. N.p., 19 Oct. 2014. Web. 29 Dec. 2015.
- Crowther, Bosley. “A ‘Rear Window’ View Seen at the Rivoli.” The New York Times 5 Aug. 1954: C3-C4. Web. 28 Dec. 2015.
- Ebert, Roger. “Rear Window Movie Review & Film Summary (1954) | Roger Ebert.” Movie Reviews and Ratings by Film Critic Roger Ebert. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2010.
- Melani, Lilia. “Rear Window.” Literature and Film. CUNY-Brooklyn. New York, New York. Oct. 2011. Lecture.