Marriage Anxieties and Voyeurism in Rear Window
In Alfred Hitchcock?s Rear Window, L.B. Jeffries, played by Jimmy Stewart, becomes completely obsessed with spending all of his waking hours watching his neighbors from his wheelchair. He even uses a camera to better his view and thus enhances his role as both a spectator and a voyeur. This contributes to the creation of a movie being played right outside Jeffries? window. In this ?movie within the movie? his neighbors? lives become the subject for the plot. Each window represents a different film screen, each which is focused upon only when Jeffries directs his attention to it. He witnesses both the anxieties associated with the beginning of a marriage and the heartache of relationships ending. The plots that are played out before his eyes become more important than his own personal life. In fact, Jeffries renounces the idea of marriage due to the scenes he witnesses from within his apartment. This is displayed by his initial rejection of the beautiful Lisa Freemont, played by Grace Kelly. She is unable to divert Jeffries? attention from the window even with the most forward flirtations. It is not until she puts herself on the other side and into the ?movie? that he becomes interested in her. Lisa finally becomes the subject of the gaze and only then does Jeffries show any sexual attraction towards her. When Lisa breaks into Thorwald?s apartment, Jeffries does not see the same Lisa he saw when she stood by him and sat in his lap. He now looks upon a ?guilty intruder exposed by a dangerous man threatening her with punishment? (Mulvey 207). He is
aroused by this new spontaneous side of her. From this scene we see that Lisa Freemont cannot become a part of the movie until she becomes a character in the ?movie within the movie.? This creates a new perception of Lisa for Jeffries and clears away many of his marriage anxieties, providing closure to their dispute and foreshadowing a relationship and eventually a marriage between the two.
Each window Jeffries observes contains a plot which portrays a different view of marriage. At first, the newlyweds show a relationship full of joy and happiness with much hope for the future. The husband is shown as he carries his bride over the threshold as they enjoy their first moments together in their new home. Then the blinds are pulled and thus sexual relations are implied. As time goes on, Jeffries notices that the husband is being sexually exhausted by his young energetic wife. His wife seems to whine and constantly want him to be with her in bed. Upon this observation, Jeffries gains the perception of marriage as a physically and emotionally exhausting life.
The majority of the film deals with the events occurring within the Thorwald apartment. In many ways the Thorwalds? marriage parallels Lisa and Jeffries? relationship, except with a reversal in gender. Lisa and Lars Thorwald, both mobile and healthy, strive to make their respective relationships work. Thorwald brings his wife dinner in bed decorated with a rose. She only laughs at this gesture. On the other side, Lisa cannot even gain Jeffries attention by sitting in his lap. Mrs. Thorwald and Jeffries, who are both physically restrained, only complain to their partners. The Thorwald apartment becomes of particular interest when Jeffries begins to suspect murder. He believes that Thorwald finally became so tired of his nagging wife that he butchered her with a knife and saw. After some time he even convinces Lisa of his accusation, which in turn adds another gazer to the rear window. This makes her
more important to Jeffries in that he can now discuss what is going on with someone who will listen. She still does not obtain his full attention until she crosses over into the plot within the Thorwald apartment. When Lisa becomes the subject of the gaze, then, and only then, is Jeffries attracted to her.
Laura Mulvey argues in ?Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema? that in virtually every visual text, the man represents the bearer of the gaze while the woman is the image or subject of the gaze. This idea corresponds to the common stereotype of the active man and the passive woman. In Rear Window, Jeffries, although in a passive physical position, takes on an active role by viewing his neighbors and eventually Lisa. Her character captures the attention of the audience immediately in the film. She draws attraction from the viewer with her captivating ?to-be-looked-at-ness? quality. In the scene when Doyle first meets Lisa, it is obvious that he cannot take his eyes off her. Jeffries, however, is not as easily charmed. Lisa must be a part of his story in order to capture his full attention. Against Jeffries? wishes, she ventures across to the apartment building in search of evidence that would incriminate Mr. Thorwald. During this scene the camera gives us a very interesting shot. We see Thorwald approaching the building from the outside and Lisa snooping around inside simultaneously. At this point her passivity as a woman is revealed. She now becomes a character in a film of which Jeffries is the spectator. This is arguably the most exciting scene of the movie. Also important is the shot/reverse shot technique used here. We first see a shot of Lisa in Thorwald?s apartment, followed by a shot of Jeffries, who is staring directly at her. She is being viewed by both the film audience and Jeffries through his camera. During the confrontation between Thorwald and Lisa, the police arrive. At this point Lisa signals to Jeffries that she has found the wedding ring. This is clearly symbolic of the end of Jeffries? marriage anxiety, which
leads to his willingness to accept her as a bride.
Jeffries soon becomes aware of the changes in the other relationships across the block. The newlyweds are at odds again. We hear a very unhappy wife scream, ?I wouldn?t have married you if I had known you would quit your job? (Rear Window). We also see the formerly lonely ?Miss Lonelyhearts? find companionship with the composer upstairs, whose beautiful music saved her from suicide. A reversal occurs in Jeffries? life as well. This is represented symbolically when we see Jeffries finally with his back to the window. Although he remains in his wheelchair, now with two casts, his affection for Lisa is stronger than ever. As she sits beside him reading travel accounts we are to assume that they will embark on worldly excursions together. We also see that Lisa did not sacrifice her lifestyle in her winning of Jeffries. When Jeffries falls asleep Lisa begins reading an article from Bazaar. This final scene shows the two of them finally at peace and happy with one another.
Rear Window. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Perf. James Stewart, Grace Kelly. MCA. 1954.