Films can sometimes provoke both an element of tension and also a feeling of helplessness in the viewer and though many horror movies tend to deviate towards this trope, the trope is not only limited to horror. Such films like Alfred Hitchcock's 'Rear Window' exploits this to its full potential and ultimately creates a movie that would ultimately put many audiences on the edges of their seats with the sheer amount of ramp-up towards the final climax at the end of the film.
The film opens up in a bustling residential area in a city on a heated, sunny day where our main protagonist, L.B. Jefferies, played by James Stewart, sweats in his sleep in a wheelchair, his broken leg raised up in a cast. He has set up a residential apartment with a window opening into a courtyard surrounded by dozens upon dozens of open windows (Fig 1), almost like television screens in which Jefferies can view the day-to-day soap operas of his neighbours lives. The fact he is unable to move is where the film draws upon the theme of impotency. Cpea of Timeout London writes in his review: “the camera never strays from inside Stewart's apartment, and every shot is closely aligned with his point of view.” (Cpea, <no date given>) What the author of this quote is telling us is that throughout most of the film, the camera is trapped in the room along with Jeffery. The only action we see outside is either from the view of his window itself or from outside at the climax when Jeffery is hanging from the room's window. The camera never moves outside of the small community's area, giving the audience a strong sense of voyeurism.
Fig 2 & 3
Through the voyeuristic actions of Jeff (Fig 3), he and the audience take a peek into the 'secret' lives of the neighbors of who have many variations of stories of love and partnership to share. The website 'Film Reviews' states in its review of this film: “confined to a wheelchair and inspecting his neighbours' lives in the dark is the very principle of cinematic spectacle, serving as superb commentary on the act of watching films.” Like watching multiple films within a film, these stories are each confined to their respective windows and each story seems to relate back to the relationship of Lisa and Jeff (Fig 2), which was first introduced by Jeff's caretaker who tries to persuade him to get married.
Thorwald, the main antagonist and murderer of his wife that has most of Jeff's attention throughout the movie, had a relationship with his wife, before killing her of course, that was almost a complete reversal of Jeff and Lisa's relationship, with Thorwald's immobile wife bedridden with illness and him taking care of her needs. Her nagging and his hatred for it is also similar to Jeff's arguments with Lisa. The recently married couple next to Jeff's window, at first, seem like the perfect partners for one-another, their lives mostly being consistent of love and intimacy. However, in the aftermath of the film's climax, we see that they begin to suffer the same theme of nagging as Jeff and Lisa and Thorwald and his wife. The couple a floor up from Thorwald seem to have a boring lifestyle, which leaves Jeff anxious as to what awaits him in the later years of marriage. The pianist, frustrated with what to write a song about, struggles to come up with a good composition while Miss. Lonelyhearts (Fig 4) struggles to find a partner of her own. In the end of the film, after she nearly attempts to commit suicide, finds love in the the form of the composer while he finds inspiration in her. Finally, the gorgeous dancer, Miss. Torso, who initially arouses Jeff's sense of curiosity and who has a harem of men who follow her every whim, seems to have a free and careless life. However, in the end its revealed that she was waiting for her one, true man to return from the navy.
Overall, the film plays to the epitome of tension by, like most of the films of its time, not revealing the climax until the very end of the film when Thorwald finds out that Jeff has been spying on him and attempts to kill him by dropping him out of his second storey window. It says a lot about voyeurism and its morality. Is it the practice of a perverted deviant or that of a neighbourhood guardian?