Rear Window (1954)

Viewed May 9th

 

Confined to a wheelchair in his Manhattan apartment, photographer L.B. Jeffries passes the time by spying on his neighbors across the courtyard...until he sees something he wasn't supposed to see.

One thing that makes little sense in Hitchcock's Rear Window is why Grace Kelly is so in love with Jimmy Stewart. She's a beautiful young model at the center of New York society, but more than that she's Grace Kelly. She's stunning and funny and smart to an otherworldly degree. We're supposed to believe that she's hounding Jimmy Stewart to marry her because, as a freelance photographer who travels to the exotic, dangerous world outside New York, he represents an escape from cosmopolitan society. But he doesn't seem that worldly or dangerous. He's a frail, over-the-hill guy. Now that he's housebound,  his cast that seems to wrap around his groin like a hard shell of adult diapers and he's kind of an asshole to everyone. Grace Kelly, so beautiful she literally became a princess in real life, is pushing herself on him, trying to kiss him and all he can do is push her away because he wants to keep peeping on his neighbors. Not only that, the entire film is of course premised on the fact that his injury represents his impotence and his sexuality is defined by scopophilia. His older friend Stella (expertly played by Thelma Ritter) bemoans the fact that "we've become a race of peeping toms." Stella gives him completely un-erotic massages and goes on to tell him he must have a "hormonal imbalance" because he doesn't get excited by the sight of a woman in her underwear. Finally, when threatened by physical danger, all he can muster is this ridiculous attack of flashing his camera bulbs at the killer. He has to wait for Grace Kelly to come and save the day. So, again, why is Kelly interested in this loser? Well, it's pretty simple, the whole film is a peeping tom's fantasy. We know this because it's all pushed so far into the unreal that it has to be. Not only does the peeper get to play voyeur all day, he's got this beautiful woman offering up her body to him (which he has the power to deny), and he's ultimately able to get her to join him in his true passion of peeping on others. Thus, he retains his power over her but doesn't have to actually touch her (or expose his impotence). On top of all that, the kicker of the fantasy is that it's because he's a peeper that he's able to solve a crime and fulfill the role of the "hero." If Stella is right and we have indeed "become a race of peeping toms" (which seems more true every year as online pornographic expands its reach), Rear Window is our Odyssey.