A crippled photographer experiences life through the aperture of his camera and discovers murder is only a f-stop away. Alfred Hitchcock’s voyeuristic thriller subsumes the spectator into an intrusive conspiracy, peering into private lives and secret deeds.
L. B. Jeffries is the narrative aperture, focusing all action and information through his lens. He occupies an almost omniscient position of total knowledge who wields control over the viewing experience, but Hitchcock subverts even this assertion by eliding information from Jeff’s perspective while allowing the audience to be included in the prank. Thus, the pleasure derived from REAR WINDOW is in the separation by the fourth wall: the actor should behave as if he isn’t being observed by an audience, creating a safe illusory reality. Jeff becomes audience to the events where absolute safety is the illusion; confined to his wheelchair (like a filmgoer stuffed into a seat) and the bad guy comes out of the fantasy to seek vengeance. This cinematic theorem defines the passive viewer as both an accomplice in the narrative…and victim.
Another interesting subtext to the film is the corruption of marriage‘s patriarchal institution. Jeff’s beautiful conspirator Lisa (the ever graceful Grace Kelly) isn’t acknowledged until she becomes part of the story, refracted through his camera lens. Jeff is in a room full of windows: his photographs are portals into other worlds, other lives, all masculine action shots or poses. The only feminine portrait is rendered in negative like a grinning skull. Lisa and Jeff become “married” when she puts on the dead wife’s ring. His fear of marriage, being tied down to a nagging wife, is reflected in another couple who go from the honeymoon phase to harsh reality, hidden behind closed curtains.
REAR WINDOW is an cinematic exercise in suspense that subsumes the audience into the story: we have surely become a society of Peeping Toms. Final Grade: (A)