In 1954, Paramount Pictures released Alfred Hitchcock’s mystery thriller Rear Window, which was based on Cornell Woolrich’s short story “It Had to Be Murder”. The plot is about a man looking out the window and suspecting his neighbour to be a murderer. The brilliance of the short story, which hides the identity of our protagonist so well that we start to question his reliability, is eliminated in the movie.
The man spying on his neighbour is named Jefferies, the audience knows about his damnation to sit in a wheelchair due to a broken leg right from the beginning of the movie, and he has a beautiful girlfriend named Lisa, portrayed by Grace Kelly. Jefferies looks out onto a courtyard surrounded by several apartments introducing many more characters to the movie adaptation: a pianist, a newlywed couple, and a young ballet dancer, who likes to practise her moves half-naked in front of her window.
Do Jefferies’ actions mirror our voyeurism when we watch movies? In Rear Window, the movement of the camera imitates the human eye, swaying from window to window and resting the lens/gaze on certain points. In Laura Mulvey’s essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, psychoanalysis is connected with film theory and feminism. According to Mulvey, the “Male Gaze” sexually objectifies women in film, as it “projects its phantasy on to the female figure which is styled accordingly” (62). Isn’t that what is happening in Rear Window? Jefferies is seen looking over to his dancing neighbour, who is stretching in shorts and bending down to her refrigerator unaware of his gaze on her. Is Jefferies’ gaze the gaze of the audience longing for scenes like this? Is this supposed to confront the audience?
The fact that our beautiful dancer was not part of Woolrich’s story leads to the question of why she was introduced to the visual adaptation. I would argue Mulvey’s theory is confirmed.
Here is the link to the PDF of Mulvey’s essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” which I used for this blog post: https://www.asu.edu/courses/fms504/total-readings/mulvey-visualpleasure.pdf