Rear Window: Big Brother Is Always Watching

A photographer named L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (James Stewart) is stuck in his tiny apartment with a broken leg. To get over his boredom and to pass time, he spies on his many neighbours; a composer, a middle-aged couple with a dog, a skimpy-dressed dancer, a couple of young lovers, a lonely woman who likes fantasy worlds and a salesman and his insignificant wife. One day, the wife goes missing and the salesman starts making movements that lead Jeff to suspect that he might have killed her. Truth be told, he has no concrete evidence to prove his accusation. However, evidence soon begins to present itself and it soon looks like Jeff was right. Lastly, his girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly) and his nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) come up with a daring scheme to catch their killer in the act.

Humans love a good show. We love to watch people and we revel in a spectacle. James Stewart plays the role of big brother, watching his neighbours through his binoculars and his camera. We all love a good peep at the going-ons of neighbours, now more than ever with the introduction of technology and internet with cameras being in every portable device known to man. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1954, Rear Window does a grand job showing man’s curious mind but also man’s devious one. Quite frankly, Hitchcock’s classic suspense thriller is a cracking look into the head of your textbook peeping tom.

Lisa (Grace Kelly) and Jeff (James Stewart) in Rear Window (Rear Window, Paramount Pictures)

Lisa (Grace Kelly) and Jeff (James Stewart) in Rear Window
(Rear Window, Paramount Pictures)

You could argue that Hitchcock is reflected in Jeff. Many of the people who worked with Hitchcock, his actresses especially, always said “he’s always watching”. He used get off on watching people. It’s a sense of voyeurism that is both shown in both Jeff and Hitch. Jeff is temporarily crippled with a broken leg in a 1950s New York apartment. He passes the time by spying on his neighbours through his binoculars and long-lens camera. Rear Window is classic Hitchcock, dabbling in things that are immoral and very unethical. It is a story about the ethics and morality behind doing things you know you shouldn’t, but you do anyway, purely to quench your own curiosity. I guess that’s one of the appeals of this film. Doing things you know you shouldn’t is a sure way to have some thrills.

The construction of this picture is awfully simple and outright intelligent. James Stewart is one of the biggest actor of the 1950s and he delivers a great performance, a step better than his performance in Vertigo. As unethical and questionably wrong as his activities are, you somehow want to see more. We see what he sees, and we soon forget about the social issues that surround the ideology of big brother societies. Though his wrongful actions help to expose a killer. Sometimes you’ve got to do a bad thing to do good, right? Despair ensues when the cops give the salesman an alibi. “You and me, plunged into despair, because we find out a man didn’t kill his wife. We’re two of the most frightening ghouls I’ve ever known” says his girlfriend Lisa.

James Stewart gives an aimable perfromance as the peeping photographer Jeff  (Rear Window, Paramount Pictures)

James Stewart gives an amiable performance as the peeping photographer Jeff
(Rear Window, Paramount Pictures)

Hitchcock really knows how to stimulate audiences and to see this, look no further than Rear Window. He does this not by merely exposing a crime, but by having the suspect have a confrontation with Jeff through a staring contest across the courtyard. That scene is chilling and it really sent a shiver down my spine. Hitchcock is one of those directors who wasn’t afraid to take risks, not only in films but in real life too. He saw that a lot of things are relative to interpretation which allowed him to condone the wrongness of spying on others, and succumbing to its attraction.  He’s a man first and a director second, and he saw that privacy was a myth, and he proved through this on and off the camera because you never know when somebody might be watching.

Rear Window shows the concept of big brother in its most basic form