We want bad things to happen
We expect them; we search for them; and we want to know everything about them. This is one of the main ideas of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” which he directed in 1954. James Stewart, whose convincing portrayal of the middle-aged photographer terrified of marriage, leads us to a new world; the world that can be seen just by opening one’s window. L. B. “Jeff” Jefferies, played by Stewart, is stuck at home because of a broken leg; during his last week of “house arrest” he sees some strange happenings taking place in the opposite apartment. Certain that his neighbor has killed his sick wife Jeff convinces his girlfriend Lisa and his home-care nurse Stella about it. Together, they start spying on the neighbor, get necessary evidence and use some help from Jeff’s friend, detective Doyle. Lisa (enchanting Grace Kelly) speeds things up; caught in the neighbor’s apartment, she signals Jeff. Neighbor sees it and understands who was spying on him all this time. In the end, he tries to kill Jeff, attacking him in his apartment, but thanks to the fast police reaction and Jeff’s cleverness, the neighbor gets arrested and punished for his doings.
The mystery is solved: the neighbor did kill his wife, and Jeff is all well with his lovely girlfriend (despite the fact that he has two broken legs now). The peaceful neighborhood may return to its carefree life, and the happy outcome for all of the neighbors indicates that Jeff’s espionage is no longer needed. Looking at Jeff sleeping happily near an open window assures the viewers that everything is going well.
This simple plot creates a small universe with a lot of different persons living in it
Hitchcock presents us with a free-spirited dancer, the lonely girl, the miserable composer, the odd family, and the unhappy couple. Jeff, who stays at home and observes all of them, finally grasps what it is like to live slowly, without having to search for a sensation every day. This life terrifies Jeff and first, but he seems devoted to it, as well.
“Rear Window” is considered one of the greatest movies of Hitchcock. Critics praised it for the addictiveness and insight into everyday details; and also, for the true exploration of city life filled with loneliness and curiosity. Bosley Crowther of the “New York Times” gave the film a generally positive review; although he called the movie insignificant because its message “about people and human nature is superficial and glib” (Crowther, 1954). It is hard to agree with Mr. Crowther because the movie provides deep insights into human nature, and that is one of the reasons it is so good. For example, the movie paints a realistic picture of a tired and skeptical photographer who stubbornly pushes his happiness away from himself. Jeff have doubts about his future with Lisa whom he considers being too perfect for him; he views her as everything but what he wants. He views life outside as a movie with real people as characters; and his attitude changes only after he becomes a participator himself. Jeff is very believable character; first of all, thanks to Stewart’s portrayal, and secondly because we can easily see ourselves in him.
Lisa’s character, on the other hand, is less believable; it may be hard to understand how a wealthy fashion-devoted socialite can be interested in a man like Jeff. Her world is a parallel reality to everything that happens in Jeff’s life, and the neighborhood he inspects willingly has nothing to do with her. Lisa is ready to make the first steps herself; and she does everything to be with her man. She also supports Jeff’s spying; it can be explained by her feelings toward him. She shares similar problems with Jeff’s neighbor, “Miss Lonelyheart”. Both women fear loneliness; and both fight against it. After fooling herself and attracting an unknown man, “Miss Lonelyheart” finally finds comfort with the man next door whose music she often listened. Lisa also fights for her happiness; she ignores Jeff’s unwillingness and weakness and does everything to show him that she is the right girl for him. Stella’s character also deserves praise; she is a source of movie’s greatest quotes. Stella is the voice of morality in Jeff’s head; she is the one pointing out that spying on one’s neighbors is wrong, as well.
Viewing Jeff as a criminal is another perspective of the movie
After all, he is doing a wrong thing because he sneaks into people’s private lives. The viewers, who follow his actions with curiosity, become participators of the crime, as well. Movie critic Roger Ebert expressed an interesting opinion that the spectators turn into spies; they are as eager to find out the truth as the main characters are. Ebert writes: “Because Hitchcock makes us accomplices in Stewart's voyeurism, we're along for the ride. When an enraged man comes bursting through the door to kill Stewart, we can't detach ourselves, because we looked too, and so we share the guilt and in a way we deserve what's coming to him” (Ebert, 1983). This is a very profound idea; although we may become part of the crime, we also become part of a great film.
Through his film, Hitchcock paints a vivid picture of the worlds around us. This world may seem too perfect, and people living in it carefree and simple. We may not understand it from the beginning, but this world is also related to us; the neighborhood we see every day is just like the one in the film. We watch other people live, die, have fun and fight; and all of this is done through a rear window. The main point of the movie is not to be afraid to step inside the world; because living does not mean watching the others from your comfort zone, but being active and motivated.
The most interesting thing about this movie is its ending
It may be surprising to see that the neighbor turns out to be a murderer after so many movies with a similar plot. The modern viewer expects anything but that. He may think that there will be some reasonable explanation for the things happening in the opposite apartment; that it is some trick or logical trap. Hitchcock simplifies it all instead; he creates a movie with a simple plot, and thanks to that it is impossible to keep away from the screen. The genius of this movie is its unpredictable predictability; because as much as we expect bad things to happen, we do not think that it will be so simple in the film. The dangers which main character faces make him understand things about his own life. He realizes that life is not about seeing others, but about exploring oneself. The mystery reconciles Jeff and his girlfriend, and he finally enjoys his life the way it is.
This movie teaches us to look through no matter what we want to see because the truth is always the priority. Paraphrasing Stella’s words, instead of staring into somebody’s windows, we should look into the souls first. Hitchcock did it; he found his viewers, and he showed them what they might see if they just open up a little and start playing, as well. Thanks to that, the movie still remains popular with the spoiled viewers who enjoy an interesting plot, love story, mystery and philosophy.