“Men, are you over 40? When you wake up in the morning, do you feel tired and rundown? Do you have that listless feeling...“
Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window graced the silver screen in 1954, with actor James Stewart and actress Grace Kelly leading the cast of motley characters in the suspense-driven hit. Set in a noisy New York neighborhood, the film opens on a man confined to a wheelchair, a cast on his left leg rendering him immobile. The opening lines, a radio advertisement trickling into the molasses morning, act as a pseudo-catalyst for the plot that follows.
L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries is a professional photographer, when he can leave his house; when he cannot, he is the symbolic example of the human tendency towards voyeurism. An accident that left him in a wheelchair with a broken leg has imprisoned him in his home, and he must turn his thirst for sight out the apartment window. A view that overlooks the rustle of a standard New York apartment complex serves as Jeffries’ entertainment, and after weeks of isolation, he has begun to piece together the jigsaw lives of his neighbors. An overactive imagination and daily spying soon complicate Jeffries’ life, as he begins to suspect one neighbor of nefarious acts.
The most characteristic aspect of this film can be found in the scene, or rather in its borders, and the masterful use of camera angles. Over 112 minutes, and in a screen ratio that mimics the universal window design, the audience is never taken out of Jeffries’ apartment. Like him, we are confined to a four-walled space, with only a small opening to the outside world through which to live. Such design drives the film and adds depth to the plot, as we slowly become the voyeur gazing out between the venetians.
Because of this limited frame of reference, the film relies heavily upon indirect characterization. We must rely upon a handful of characters’ voices to complete the dossiers of nearly two dozen different co-inhabitants of the complex. This characterization works doubly; each statement, each judgment voiced by Jeffries helps us to also identify him. Much like life, we define a person not only by what people say of them, but also by what they say of people. In this way, Jeffries can quickly be recognized as a representation of the human social complexity.
I find this film to be not only engaging, but rather quite telling. It plays with a telescoping effect, and as the film fades, you find the lens turned upon yourself; we begin a manner of introspection that is at once both unsettling and liberating. Good acting, a world-class director, and a memorable plot make this film a classic, and a must-see. If you have watched a Hitchcock film, then you love Hitchcock. If you love Hitchcock, then you have seen this film. And if you haven’t watched it, find a copy and sit down to gaze through the Rear Window.