Rear Window is a true classic of the world cinema. Created by a master of suspense, this film is very multilayered and provides the viewers with many ways to enjoy it. There are many themes in Rear Window; however, the ones that seem to stand out the most are love and voyeurism. This paper will show that Rear Window is an archetype of the modern culture of voyeurism, as this problem has exacerbated very since the time the film was released.
When analyzing the theme of voyeurism, it is important to think about the reasons why Jeff started spying on his neighbors. Voyeurism is a very complex phenomenon. Despite that voyeurism is condemned by the society, all people in one way or another engage in it. Jeff is no exception, and he was for some reasons indulging in voyeurism.
The first thing that comes to mind is boredom. It is obvious that Jeff is bored to death sitting in his apartment. Jeff broke his leg and is forced to spend all his time at home. Obviously, there is nothing to do for a man in such a situation. Reading, receiving guests, and talking on the telephone seem to be the only options he has to spend his time on. Nevertheless, these activities cannot fill the entire day. Therefore, Jeff is stuck in a complicated and hard situation. This despair motivates him to indulge in voyeurism.
In the first scene where we meet the protagonist, he is sleeping in sweat and has a rather dissatisfied facial expression. When the camera moves forward, the viewer can see a broken camera and many beautiful photos on the wall. This scene suggests that Jeff is a professional photographer who seems to be undergoing a crisis in his career. During the talk with his colleague, Jeff reveals to us that he has been sitting at home for 6 weeks and there is one week left till the plaster cast will be removed. It is obvious that Jeff is rather depressed and anxious because of this situation.
Having nothing to do at home, Jeff spies on an attractive young woman living at the opposite side of the courtyard. She walks in her apartment in pink lingerie and constantly distracts Jeff. He seems to get some sort of sexual pleasure by watching her move around her apartment. This is direct evidence that Jeff is deeply engaged in voyeurism. When he meets with Stella, a nurse from an insurance company, it becomes clear that she condemns Jeff for his indulgence in spying on his neighbors. She imagines him in the court where he will defend himself against allegations of crime.
To better understand the motivations of the main character it is necessary to analyze Jeff’s personal life. Being a single man, it is obvious that Jeff has a hard time being alone in his apartment. Nevertheless, he does not want to marry to avoid problems at home. Jeff is afraid that his future wife will be dissatisfied with their life and will nag constantly. Therefore, instead of building his own family, Jeff prefers to develop as a professional. However, the situation with a broken leg has exacerbated his problem with loneliness. Before breaking the leg, he was immersed in his career and did not feel loneliness as much. However, the incident has highlighted his problem in personal life, but Jeff does not want to admit it and instead prefers to indulge in voyeurism. In this respect, it would be good to delve deeper into the theme of love and marriage, as it is directly linked to the theme of voyeurism.
Jeff’s relationship with Lisa is the only one with a dialogue and clear exposition in the film. As it was revealed during Jeff’s conversation with Stella, he does not want to marry Lisa because he considers her to be too perfect for him. Being a professional photographer, Jeff travels a lot and does not have a high salary that would allow him to maintain Lisa’s lifestyle. He wants a woman who will be ready to travel with him any time and it will be a pleasure for her. However, Stella considers that Jeff and Lisa will make a perfect pair and encourages him to take a bold step and marry her.
Jeff claims that he should not misguide Lisa and tell her that they do not match. In this way, he wants to avoid the responsibility. It is interesting how Stella refutes his opinion about Lisa and marriage. Stella tells Jeff that intellect has caused a lot of problems for the society, especially in romantic relationships. Instead of loving each other, people now analyze one another endlessly which only hurts their relationships. Indeed, there is a lot of truth in this statement. Love should be pure and sincere; there is no need to analyze it or build some predictions. Stella’s opinion about marriage and love sheds a light on the reasons why Jeff feels so miserable. However, he does not want to listen to her and continues to spend his life watching other people build their romantic relationships.
In this respect, it is interesting to note that weeks of spying on his neighbors have only exacerbated Jeff’s reluctance to marry Lisa. In the windows of his courtyard, the protagonist saw a wide range of bitter relationships. All this experience has discouraged him from starting a romantic relationship. Jeff sees how Thorwald’s wife constantly nags about their unhappy life. Unconsciously, he projects Thorwald’s life on his relationship with Lisa, leading to the fear of replicating the same scenario in his own life.
Jeff’s obsession seems to grow every day to the point where he virtually starts living the lives of his neighbors. His obsession is so strong that he does not hear what Stella advises him. Instead of listening to her advice, he makes a rude joke and continues to watch after his neighbors. At this point, it seems as if the main character does not want to live his own life – he finds it much more interesting to observe how other people dwell and analyze their behavior.
Despite that Jeff seems to be a rather cold and restrained man, it is obvious that he lusts for love. This can be seen in the scene where he watches how a young couple moves into one of the apartments. The couple is happy and in love. The man kisses his girlfriend and looks very excited. Jeff stared at them with jealousy but did not realize that.
In reality, Lisa is a perfect woman for Jeff. She is very caring, considerate, and loving. To relieve Jeff’s depression and loneliness, she decided to make a romantic dinner with wine and tasty meals. She even bought him a present to make him happier. However, it is fascinating and strange how Jeff does not value such caring attitude of Lisa. He takes everything for granted and does not understand that such attitude of Lisa deserves to be valued.
Jeff is very superficial in his relationships with Lisa. He sees only her appearance and does not feel the deep love that she has for him. He stereotypes her, thinking that an attractive and wealthy woman cannot be a good partner in marriage. This prevents him from enjoying his life with Lisa to the fullest. By watching how Miss Torso flirts with many men every evening, Jeff projects her behavior on Lisa and thinks that, as an attractive woman, she also indulges in such behavior. At the same time, after watching how Miss Lonelyhearts suffers from loneliness, Jeff does not even suspect that Lisa suffers the same way because of his rudeness. Lisa even hinted him that she was also, in fact, lonely and suffering. However, he did not pay any attention to her words.
The main protagonist is obsessed with spying on his neighbors. At first, it seems that this activity is simply a way to pass his time in boredom. However, as the film progresses, it becomes clear that Jeff is, indeed, obsessed with spying. This can be clearly seen in the scene where the main character talks with his boss. Despite having a business conversation, Jeff cannot stop watching after his neighbors in the morning. Hitchcock emphasized his obsession by constantly shifting the camera from one apartment window to another, with the phone conversation being in the background as if it was something less significant than watching after other people.
Instead of trying to build his life with Lisa, Jeff does not even want to listen to her recommendations and answers her in a rude tone. When she leaves, he does not even care to apologize and prefers to watch what his neighbors are doing at the moment. This also indicates that Jeff is so indulged in voyeurism that he does not even care about his personal life or what his beloved Lisa feels about the situation.
Rear Window puts the viewer in the position of Jeff. The whole film in set in Jeff’s apartment, which brings the viewer closer to the protagonist. Together with Jeff, the viewer becomes a witness of a crime. Interestingly, Alfred Hitchcock wanted the viewers to analyze how we watch films and where our pleasure in watching them really comes from. The lesson that the film teaches is that you should be careful with what you look at because it might really lead you to things that you bargained for.
Hitchcock wanted to show that many viewers are, in fact, shameless peeping Toms (people who indulge in voyeurism). Some viewers get real satisfaction from watching the seductive Miss Torso, sympathizing with Miss Lonelyhearts, and observing the unhappy marriage of Thorwald. It is interesting how their lives will develop; this keeps the viewers attached to the screen throughout the entire film.
Rapid development and proliferation of social networking sites nowadays is a good illustration of how people enjoy voyeurism. The fundamental idea of social networking is that one gets an opportunity to enter the private space of other people and observe how they build their lives. Therefore, Rear Window is still very relevant, as modern audience can reflect on how they indulge in voyeurism every day no less than Jeff. However, while such behavior was condemned in the past, nowadays it is totally normal to observe other people’s lives. Social networking has made voyeurism a norm; this phenomenon is known as “mediated voyeurism”.
Rear Window is, indeed, an archetype of the modern culture of voyeurism. Time has shown that 64 years since the release of the film, the society did not eradicate its voyeuristic tendencies. On the contrary, this culture has grown very significantly and is currently being normalized. This process is fueled by the development of social networking sites. Modern people spend a lot of time on social networking. They browse other people’s photos and videos to observe their lives. There is currently a great problem with social media addiction as some people cannot restrain themselves from voyeurism.
However, it is important to note that voyeurism was common for humanity for its entire history. By their nature, people are curious about everything that surrounds them. We are biologically programmed to behave this way. As species, we retain our neotenic traits, which means that we are more childlike than other mammals (Sutherland Labs). Curiosity is one of the most essential neotenic traits that humanity has retained. In fact, such deeply ingrained curiosity has helped us to survive and adapt to the harsh and constantly changing environment. Therefore, voyeurism is based on inherent biological characteristics of human beings.
Another important side of social media addiction which further stimulates voyeurism is that social media networks activate our brain’s reward system, which is known as nucleus accumbens. Thus, when a person gets positive endorsements on the social media, such as likes, comments, and hearts, his or her brain activates rewarding feelings (Sutherland Labs). Besides that, people are constantly coaxed by friends into joining various social media sites.
In this way, social media has become a “rear window” of the modern time. We are increasingly resembling Jeff in our online behavior. Instead of a physical rear window, we have a computer or phone screen. We observe the lives of other people with great pleasure and curiosity, which is a clear indication that voyeurism is growing very rapidly in modern culture.
Voyeuristic tendencies pose a range of substantial threats. First, by focusing on other people, individuals neglect their own lives and may even develop various psychological complexes. This is a very unhealthy trend because such people decrease their chances of succeeding in life and achieving their goals. If one wants to achieve his or her goals, they should focus on their life and work hard towards their objects.
Another adverse effect of modern voyeurism is that social media has become an outlet for bullying, sexual harassment, abuse, and coercion. By sharing personal information on the Internet, one exposes his or her life to people with bad intentions. Moreover, there is evidence that “mediated voyeurism” might lead to the development of the voyeuristic disorder. This mental illness is characterized by a sexual arousal from intentional spying on unsuspecting people who are getting undressed, naked, or participate in sexual activities.
Making a conclusion, Rear Window highlights a very significant social problem – voyeurism. It shows that indulgence in this activity desensitizes a person to his or her real life. This could be clearly seen on the complex relationships between Jeff and Lisa. Unfortunately, voyeurism has become more prevalent in our time due to social networking; therefore, there is a need to address their problem and avoid further development of voyeuristic tendencies in our society.