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Generally speaking, voyeurism may be defined as the act of obtaining (sexual) gratification from observing unsuspecting individuals who are usually undressed, or partially undressed. Furthermore, it may be used as a term to describe prying observers who seek the scandalous (voyeurs). Based on these definitions of the term, it only naturally follows that voyeurism entails the act of obtaining gratification through visualization. This is perhaps the most important theme that can be identified in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, and so it is important to discuss it in some depth. This will make it possible to more fully grasp the film’s underlying message (and meaning). Voyeurism is a central theme in Rear Window; observance of other people’s lives brings excitement into life, but it may also generate serious conflict.

After having watched the film, the first thing that becomes clear is that the film’s protagonist, L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies, is in fact a voyeur. First, this become clear from the fact that he makes his living as a photographer. On this point, it should be noted that he is a recognized professional photographer; he obtains excitement from taking risks and photographing all kinds of events (even those who are dangerous). For example, the fact that Jeff breaks his leg while attempting to photograph a racetrack accident evidences his interest in observation (thus showing him as the voyeur that he is). After his accident, he is forced to remain inside of his Greenwich Village apartment. Jeff cannot go out of his apartment, which means that he cannot observe the outside world and photograph it (making a living and obtaining gratification in the process). In order to continue obtaining gratification, Jeff turns to his apartment’s rear window. Through it, he cannot only observe the building’s courtyard, but also the apartments of many of his neighbors. Bored with a sedentary lifestyle, Jeff begins to pry into the lives of his neighbors using his camera lens and a pair of binoculars.

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Jeff’s voyeurism brings excitement back into his life, but it also generates conflict in the film. One of his neighbors, Lars Thorwald, is a wholesale jewelry salesman. Mr. Thorwald is married; his wife is confined to her bed, probably due to illness. One day, Mr. and Mrs. Thorwald have an argument. Jeff is privy to the argument; he is also privy to the fact that throughout the night, Mr. Thorwald makes repeated trips to and from his apartment carrying his case. Later, Jeff observes Thorwald cleaning a knife and a saw. Finally, Jeff observes that Thorwald has moving men take a large crate out of his apartment. On this point, Jeff’s voyeurism fills his life with excitement. Above all, Jeff fills it with a renewed sense of meaning. Having a broken leg that confines him to his apartment, thus impeding him from working as a photographer, he is now interested in determining what happened in Lars Thorwald’s apartment. Mrs. Thorwald has disappeared, and this all has become too intriguing for Jeff; he cannot let it go (and decides to share his ideas with his girlfriend Lisa and his nurse Stella). At this point in the film, Jeff has shifted from being a photographer to being an investigator of sorts.

As the film progresses, he cannot help himself, and he brings his girlfriend and nurse into a plan that he has devised (and that is also based on his voyeurism). It becomes clear that he is a man that only obtains excitement from observing others. Not satisfied with this, he needs others to leave him be. This apparent obsession with observing Mr. Thorwald allows no other distraction. This is precisely why he goes out of his way to make his nurse and his girlfriend stop worrying about him (and distracting him), and start observing outside of his rear window as well.

Continuing with the discussion on voyeurism, it is important to point out that it helps Jeff connects the film’s two story lines. On one side, and as it has already been discussed, Jeff is a voyeur, and it is this trait that allows him to witness the Thorwalds’ argument, which in turn sets him on a mission to find out what happened to Mrs. Thorwald. On the other side, it is important to point out that Jeff’s voyeurism is also an indication of his aversion to commitment (as it relates to his girlfriend Lisa). After his accident, Jeff focuses more on observing his neighbors from his rear window, than he does on observing his girlfriend. This is important, since it demonstrates that he is a selfish person. He is not truly interested in a serious relationship, but rather in a relationship that is founded on voyeurism. This means that Jeff wants his girlfriend to share his interest in observing Mr. Thorwald. He does not want to see Lisa or direct his attention to her; he wants her to pay attention to only what he wants (gazing out of his rear window). Of course, Lisa tries to make Jeff notice her, but she fails; Jeff makes her leave their relationship on a secondary level and focus almost exclusively on finding out if Thorwald killed his wife.

In this way, Lisa, who is an exhibitionist (constantly trying to catch Jeff’s attention and control his gaze), finds herself being overpowered by Jeff’s voyeurism. This is evidenced by the fact that Lisa ends up sharing his theory about Lars Thorwald. Also, she ends up helping Jeff prove his theory. She climb’s up the Thorwalds’ fire escape and goes into their apartment in an attempt to help Jeff discover whether or not Mr. Thorwald killed his wife. Doing this signifies a major risk for Lisa, as her life is in danger, but she is compelled to do it (by her boyfriend’s voyeurism).

Jeff becomes obsessed with the idea that Mr. Thorwald has killed his sick, invalid wife. Based on this belief, which is brought about by the observation of the Thorwalds, Jeff does all that is in his power to confirm his suspicions. At the same time, it becomes clear that voyeurism, the film’s primary driving force, is ultimately what allows the story to unfold. In the end, Lars Thorwald is captured (while trying to kill Jeff) and he confesses to murdering his wife. Also, having managed to put Thorwald behind bars, Jeff and Lisa move forward in their relationship. In other words, Jeff is no longer driven by voyeurism. He now seems more willing to engage in a more equal relationship founded on mutual regard.

Code: writers15

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