Rear Window is about a photographer named “Jeff” (played by James Stewart) who, confined to his apartment with a broken leg, has nothing to do but look out the window. In doing so, Jeff learns about the individual and interconnected lives of his neighbors, inventing his own backstories for each one. Initially, this newfound, voyeuristic hobby does nothing but satisfy an itch of boredom but this changes when he decides that his neighbor may have committed murder. Fearful and intrigued, his spying increases and becomes more brazen. He begins to share his theories with his nurse Stella, his detective-friend Tom Doyle, and his too-good-for-him girlfriend Lisa (played by the stunning Grace Kelly), who all engage his suspicions in their own way.
Let’s get my gushing out of the way: this film was really great and still holds up! Shot entirely from within Jeff’s room and on a custom built city-courtyard set, the movie felt like it was made for the very purpose of conquering the storytelling challenge it presented. And this is achieved, serving as a prime case study to Hitchcock’s mastery of the form (probably one of the more pretentious sentences I’ve typed recently, but totally true). At face value, the plot is relatively simple but expands in scope by spending time on Jeff’s imperfect relationship with Lisa’s perfect―everything. This worked well thanks to Stewart’s charming drawl/delivery and Grace Kelly being, well, Grace Kelly.
If I could be permitted one gripe, it would be that I found the ending to be less satisfying than the one I thought the film was headed towards—the one in which Jeff and his cohorts continue to descend into paranoia and accusation. And yet, the ending we got still beautifully balanced Hitchcock’s trademark suspense with a bit of humor and spirit.
I realize this is a weird tangent, but if I may be permitted one: Recently, I’ve been fascinated by John Koenig’s “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows”, a blog/art project that seeks to invent words for obscure emotions. One of my favorite made-up words is “sonder”, which is constructed to mean “the realization that everyone has a story”—the notion that every person in the background of your life has an existence that is as “vivid and complex as your own”. I kept thinking back to this as the film balanced developing Jeff and Lisa against the backdrop of Jeff’s neighbors. These neighbors start out as glimpses of caricatures and conclude the film as terrifically well-developed supporting characters.
As someone who lives in an apartment building, borders neighbors in 4 directions, and has a view to countless other apartments and balconies, I can’t help but think of the wide range of the human experience taking place before my unpracticed gaze and without my realization. And while I am saddened by the inability to better know this, it’s perhaps best to leave my neighbors to their privacy. :D