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'Rear Window' & the importance of seeing something, say something

Thelma Ritter, James Stewart, Alfred Hitchcock: 1954
Thelma Ritter, James Stewart, Alfred Hitchcock: 1954

It has been one year since Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight, and Gina DeJesus were liberated from Ariel Castro's house on Seymour Avenue in Cleveland, and while we can remember the miracle of their discovery, there are many whom are still missing. Their families still wait in vigil to hear of their return and their safety.

Yet, we as a culture do not pick up on signs of abduction well. When it came to Berry, Knight, and DeJesus, neighbors saw signs but didn't think anything of it and let it pass. Maybe this is just a side effect of our culture and how commonplace violence against women is, but at the same time, what is the usual when someone is suspicious?

If we look at the 1954 film Rear Window, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and starring James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, and Raymond Burr, we can explore in our own mindset how we act out our suspicions. The film is about an injured photographer, Jeff, who spends his recovery time looking out his apartment window and spying on his neighbors. His nurse (Ritter), Stella always goats him on being a peeping Tom before, during, and after their insured time together. His girlfriend, Lisa(Kelly) does her best to bring the outside world to him and wonders why he cares more about the happenings of his neighbors than about their future together. He has nicknames for his neighbors, "Miss Torso" for the dancer in the apartment right across the way, "Miss Lonelyhearts" for the woman who is romantically lonely, among others. He shares his commentary even about the traveling salesman across the way (Burr) and his invalid wife. One night, he hears some woman scream "Don't!" and glass breaking. During the night, he is awakened by thunder, and sees the salesman leave his apartment at odd hours of the night with a suitcase. Then, in the morning, he sees the salesman wrap a large knife and a handsaw into newspaper, and notices the wife is gone. He thinks the salesman murdered his wife. He shares these observant theories with his nurse and his girlfriend, who are convinced by his suspicions, and by what they see with him on his neighbors' behavior. He then tells his police detective friend Doyle (Wendell Corey) to look in on him, but when he does, he comes up with nothing, and nothing again after a repeat search of detail. Jeff decides to play detective and continue his investigation. In the meantime, the neighborhood dog dies with his neck split open, and while the entire neighborhood feels shock and pity for their neighbor, the salesman does not come outside, which confirms Jeff's suspicions. You will have to see the film to see how it ends.

The film remains relevant today on account of dramatically exploring the usual. The usual seems to be still that people have suspicions, they either do not pursue them or when they do, are met with institutional disbelief, and the person who suspects either continues to get the attention of the law, or brushes it off. The fact that this still goes on more than fifty years later is not something to be proud of. If this film teaches anything, its the basic saying- "If you see something, say something." If more people said something when they see or hear violence against women, there is hope that there will be a better, more equitable commonplace.