Watching Rear Window, A Critical Response
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Table of Contents
Rear Window tells the story of a globe-trotting photo-journalist who breaks his leg on a dangerous assignment and is confined to a wheelchair in his Greenwich Village apartment with nothing to do all day but look out the window at his neighbours. The film alternates back and forth between two story strands – a murder mystery and a love story, intertwining the two plot lines through the theme of voyeurism. The hero’s voyeurism is integral to the murder mystery which he pieces together by looking out his window, but it is also connected to his relationship with the heroine.
Refusing to commit himself to a love relationship, Jeff (James Stewart) prefers to look out his window at his neighbours across the way rather than to look at Lisa (Grace Kelly), the beautiful woman who is in the same room with and who repeatedly throws herself at him. He opts for the freedom (and irresponsibility) of a one-way relationship based on voyeurism (seeing without being seen) instead of a two-way relationship rooted in mutual regard, recognition, and concern.
The pleasure he derives from watching his neighbours without their knowledge or permission is essentially sadistic. As Laura Mulvey argues, voyeurism is a pleasure based on a gaze that controls or dominates what it sees. A somewhat different form of visual pleasure characterizes his relationship with the heroine. Lisa provides a willing...