Rear Window and Value of Voyeurism

January 11, 2019 by Essay Writer

Auteur director Alfred Hitchcock first introduced audiences to Rear Window, a film that would go on to reach both critical and commercial success, in the mid-1950s. With this, he left them pondering a question still being debated by viewers today: ‘Is voyeurism acceptable?’. Hitchcock’s outlook on voyeurism, particularly whether he appears to endorse or condemn it, is nuanced. Instead of presenting voyeurism as thoroughly negative or positive, Hitchcock develops a variety of scenarios that show that the value of voyeurism is case-dependent.

Hitchcock supports voyeurism when undertaken in circumstances that will result in justice being served when it otherwise may not. Injured photographer L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies, the protagonist of the film, alongside his girlfriend Lisa and nurse Stella, believe they have uncovered a crime when observing the neighbours across the apartment complex. It appears as though tenant Lars Thorwald has murdered his wife: first, his wife disappears, then he begins to act incredibly suspect. It is later revealed that the trio were correct in their suspicions – Thorwald was guilty of killing his wife. Hitchcock displays the fact that good can result from spying on others, as an innocent victim receives justice as a direct effect. When investigating Thorwald’s apartment prior to his arrest, Lisa finds herself in serious danger, startling Jeffries and increasing his awareness of the vulnerability of Lisa in general.

Jeffries develops a greater sense of understanding of the fact that Lisa is not necessarily a default part of his life when she is almost harmed by Thorwald when spying on him. Jeffries was always aware of the physical danger threatening Lisa being a part of his life, initially pleading with her to not venture to Thorwald’s apartment. However, he did not, until the moment when Lisa is almost attacked by Thorwald, truly face the possibility of living without Lisa. Upon this, he reflects on his own behaviour toward Lisa, realising his behaviours have been affecting her emotionally and may eventually drive her away. Throughout the film, it is made clear that Lisa is more invested in the relationship than Jeffries, with him rebutting Stella’s suggestion at the two wedding. In doing this, Hitchcock shows that voyeurism can allow one to grow as a person, with Jeffries adjusting his attitude towards Lisa as a result. However, Hitchcock does also indicate, by filming Lisa and the other characters in danger, that the watching of others can put others in harm’s way.

Hitchcock suggests his objection to voyeurism by showing the potential danger it can result in one being placed in. Lisa’s curiosity that arises from the observing done with Jeffries and Stella leads her to investigate Thorwald’s apartment. When Thorwald arrives home, he discovers Lisa and is enraged. Once the police have arrived and arrested Lisa, Thorwald goes over to Jeffries apartment and confronts him. Eventually, he attempts to kill Jeffries, yet police return just in time to break his fall. Stella too could have very well been placed in immediate danger had she been present in the apartment when Thorwald was, however, she was bailing out Lisa. Hitchcock makes known to the audience that the consequences of voyeurism may result in harm to those involved, and, in the most serious scenarios, has the potential to end in death. Earlier in Rear Window, Jeffries becomes very uncomfortable upon noticing Thorwald watching him, feeling as though it was not within his rights for him to do so – a negative result of someone’s act of voyeurism.

Jeffries feels as though his privacy is invaded when he realises that Thorwald is looking at him from his apartment. Hitchcock includes this to indicate that he condemns the act of spying on another as it is not fair to remove a person’s right to seclusion from those they do not wish to associate with. Jeffries is clearly highly unnerved by the experience, yet, instead of deterring him from continuing to invade Thorwald’s privacy, it actually intensifies his belief that he is guilty of the crime and that it is up to Jeffries to bring him to justice. However, this does not bode well for Jeffries, who is put at risk when Thorwald disrespects his privacy once again, entering his apartment uninvited.

Throughout Rear Window, Hitchcock ensures that the morality of voyeurism is questioned and explored, leaving his personal opinion open to interpretation. He provides arguments for both sides of the debate, indicating that the acceptability of the act depends heavily on the individual situation. The morality of the act cannot be defined by a solid answer, as it is subjective based on the circumstances in which it is being considered. This leads the audience to return to the original question the film poses: When is voyeurism acceptable, and when is it not?

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