Private Worlds: Hitchcock’s Penchant for Rule-Breakers (“Rear Window”, 1954)

“Rear Window” is a frustrating story to follow. With unbelievable characters and a seriously Mr. Magoo protagonist, I found it tough to watch. Of course that’s naive, because it isn’t about the character’s development- not how cunning they are or how quick their reflexes…there’s so little traditional ego present in the dialogue. This isn’t a thriller. All that ninja/spy stuff stays under the surface as a necessary tension shown in blue eyes and sly smiles. This story is about the title, the windows that face each other, not the street. Not the public, per-se. An immobilized combat photographer is recovering, one leg in a cast, in his thoroughly exposed apartment, which faces dozens of other open-windowed apartments. Nobody has blinds that properly conceal a damn thing. Everyone’s windows are open, everybody looks in on everyone else, and no one seems to care (unless they’re starting to get cuddly). Aha! Metaphor. More subversion. More morals from Hitchcock: when someone finally turns out their lights and tries to cover up their life among the naked neighbors, it becomes suspicious.

One’s need for privacy looks a lot like deviance in this little piece of the world in which the story unfolds. It just so happens that the person who turns out his lights and starts acting “shady” is just that: a criminal who has committed a very personal crime. The question of whether or not it’s right to be looking in on people with special equipment comes up before the bad guy is finally caught. Should I be looking just because I can see everything? Should I be looking with this lens, which increases my seriousness and broadens the matter/s I expose with the device? Is watching the same as taking note? And why would anybody watch their neighbors without assuming the curious consideration of putting what they see in moments together Asa story, which may be true?

Applying this situation to real urban life makes me quite nervous, but for the purpose of a moral tale, naked windows and exposed lives in the midst of cold-blooded murder and half-witted detective work seems like a perfectly warranted meditation.

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