Alfred Hitchcock’s film Rear Window is an exercise in suspense and mystery. The movie takes what could be a boring premise – simply watching a man watch his neighbors – and makes it terrifying and intriguing. The movie relies on certain camera techniques and the idea of looking intimately at people’s private lives in order to tell its story. In this paper I will be addressing two questions in regards to the movie: is there a connection between the audience and voyeurism, and is the act of looking through a window very different from watching a film? The truth is that there is indeed a sort of voyeurism experienced by the audience, as evidenced by scenes focusing on the neighbors rather than the main characters. Furthermore, there are some similarities to watching a movie and looking through a window, though they are more similar in concept than in practice.
In terms of voyeurism that the audience experiences, there are several scenes in particular that feel voyeuristic. The first of these scenes comes not long after L.B. has started watching his neighbors. As the movie goes through different scenes, from the attractive woman throwing parties, to the newlywed couple, to the middle-aged woman with her dog, it feels like we are watching real people, just going about their daily lives. Something that should be boring becomes fascinating very quickly. We see things like the dog going to the bathroom on one neighbor’s flowers, and a very lonely woman waiting all by herself for her lover. Because the actions that we see range from innocuous every day things to deeper ones – such as the lonely waiting woman, or the newlywed couple having a private moment – the characters and situations seem more real, and thus more voyeuristic. After a while this feeling starts to fade, especially once it becomes clear that one of the neighbors – Mr. Thorwald – has possibly murdered his wife.
After that, it is easy to forget about the discomfort that comes with the idea of watching someone else. However, this notion is brought up again when L.B. asks his girlfriend Lisa if spying on his neighbors is ethical. Lisa doesn’t give a direct answer, and instead rhetorically asks: “Whatever happened to that old saying, ‘love thy neighbor’?” This quote forces the audience to realize what L.B. has been doing, and what the audience has been doing alongside him. As a result, the movie feels voyeuristic once again. Furthermore, the way the movie is shot emphasizes the idea of voyeurism. When L.B. is looking at the neighbors through his binoculars, so is the audience. A technique is used to make it look like we also looking directly through those binoculars, and the same thing for the camera. There are also several shots that make it feel as though the audience is looking out their own window, and ultimately interactions with the main character are limited in favor of observing his neighbors.
For the question of whether the act of watching a movie is very different from watching through one’s window, the answer ultimately is: yes and no. There ar some similarities between the act of looking through a window and watching a movie (especially for this particular movie) but there are a number of differences as well. In terms of similarities, one must consider part of why movies are so well loved. Part of it lies in the characters. When characters are written in a realistic manner, it is easier for the audience to relate to them, to put themselves in their shoes, and care about them. Because of this, watching the characters in a movie can be a bit like observing people through a window. After a while one starts to notice their habits, and begin to care about them. However, the audience is also separated from the characters in a movie because of a screen, and a similar thing can be said about watching people through a window.
It is rather like watching through a one-way mirror. A person goes about his or her lives, while someone else watches without the other being the wiser. Despite this, there are some differences between watching through a window and watching a movie. These differences range from the obvious, such as real people’s lives not being scripted, to the fact that continually watching people through windows would not likely be as exciting or interesting as a movie. Any kind of unusual behavior, such as Mr. Thorwald murdering his wife, would take a lot more observation to discover than is really shown in the movie.
Rear Window is an excellent film all around, and it has several interesting aspects to it. Some of these include the fact that watching the movie is rather voyeuristic, and also the idea that watching movies and watching people through windows can be eerily similar. Ultimately, the movie strives to make it’s viewer both interested and uncomfortable, especially with the relatable issues seen in the film, and how closely the camerawork makes the audience feel like they are the ones actually looking through the window. This is a mark of great storytelling, and a good understanding of people in general.