“We’ve become a race of Peeping Toms. What people ought to do is get outside their house and look in for a change.” Is Stella the voice of reason?
Alfred Hitchcock’s film, Rear Window, directed in 1954, explores the character of insurance nurse Stella, who warns about how society has changed for the worse. Stella is backed up by events in the film when saying that people should engage with each other, though she, Jeff and Lisa disregard her advice. However, it was forced circumstances that coerced them to become ‘Peeping Toms.’ Rear Window presents how voyeurism and passiveness on their own restricts society from progressing, but when given purpose, they can be for the greater good. Hitchcock intentionally presents these themes as such to convince the audience of how creating a barrier between humans, similar to the effect McCarthyism had on the 1950s, needs to be avoided in order to transition into a more self-reflective society.
The negative attitudes people have towards each other are a consequence of the voyeurism evident in Rear Window. When the dog owners find out that their dog was killed, it prompts an emotionally-driven speech from the wife that berates the neighbours for not ‘knowing the meaning of the word neighbours.’ It has no impact however, the residents of the Greenwich Village still acting as voyeurs and not taking any real action to improve the situation. Instead, some even view the outburst as their own entertainment, laughing it off and claiming that ‘it’s just a dog.’ The apathy demonstrated is accentuated by a series of shots taken before and after the dog owners go back into their apartment. Upon hearing the cries of the wife, medium shots view how all the neighbours come out to see the commotion. However, once there is nothing more to understand about what happened, medium shots once again capture the same neighbours going back into their homes. By fitting each tenant and their residence into single frames, the audience is made aware of how people only want to observe what is going on to comfort themselves that whatever has happened does not involve them. Without any push to ‘look in for a change’, the unfriendly atmosphere only remains, the sculptor told to ‘just shut up’ despite her effort to help out Thorwald, a clear example. Hitchcock does this to remind the audience of the detrimental nature possessed by McCarthyism, as warned by Stella.
The shift to passiveness is also another contributor to the indifference people have for each other. The modern society of Rear Window is made up of people who give in and l...