A Rear Window to Problems in the Modern Society

by Qi Wu

As the famous Hitchcock critic Robin Wood says, “Rear Window (1954) is perhaps the first of Hitchcock’s films to which the term masterpiece can reasonably be applied”. It is my favorite Hitchcock’s movie as well—the manifestation of “pure cinema”* is just brilliant! Although the whole movie takes place in a confined setting, its appeal to the audience is by no means confined. The movie is certainly timeless, in part due to the loveliness of Grace Kelly and wittiness of James Stuart.

As a reflective work to the new media, i.e. television at that time, it casts doubt on the distractive mode of the television. The rear window of our protagonist Jeff (James Stuart) is, in fact, a metaphor for television, since he literally “switches channels” when “window-shopping” a story he is interested in, as articulated by his nurse Stella. The habit to be constantly distracted makes him even unable to stay focused on the person he loves when she is in danger. This should ring a bell to us living in a modern society rife with all kinds of new media and distractions. Remember last time you were distracted by your smartphone from your friend or lover? Odds are, “just a while ago”.

Of course, Rear Window interrogates other problems in the modern society. The problem of marriage is shown through the change of the relationship between the newlyweds, from sweetness to boredom, then fatigue and bickering; and ultimately in Mr. Thorwald murdering and dismembering his wife. Such difficulty of communication between male and female also exists in the relationship of Jeff and Lisa (Grace Kelly) although they are unmarried at the time. The problem of the society is revealed when the dog is killed and no one really cares about the sad family after the “show” is over. The credibility of knowledge is challenged as well when the detective investigates the case and finds no evidence proving Mr. Thorwald guilty. So, when watching Rear Window, follow the instructions of Sidney Gottlieb and consider: is intimacy, especially intimacy between men and women, possible? Are society and community possible? Is knowledge possible?

* Hitchcock believes that “pure cinema is montage, the joining together of pieces of film and creating an idea.” (See Sidney Gottlieb, Hitchcock on Hitchcock, p.142)

Qi Wu is a graduate student majoring in Media, Culture and Communication at NYU, with a concentration on visual culture and cultural studies. Movies and travelling are Qi’s major passions. Contact Qi via victoriamoyu@gmail.com.


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