I really enjoyed Rear Window. I came for the big name director, but I stayed for the eccentric, complex story. A man bored in an apartment. No an adventurer cooped up in an apartment. It sounds like the set up for some cabin-fever-fueled horror flick. But you couldn’t be more wrong. The story is a complex beast inside a simple movie’s suit. And I love it.
Before I talk about what I interpreted from the plot, I would like to appreciate the cinematography and overall production of the film. It’s oddly ‘sharp’ and contemporary. Aside from the robotic 50’s recorded dialogue that sounds ripped from old radio and that bit of film grain, I wouldn’t be surprised to find this film in the pantheon of 80’s and 90’s movies. The movie starts and ends with unique twin panning shots. They’re drawn out, but incredibly well choreographed. Stepping back you come to appreciate the timing that the actors would have to comply to in order to get the shot just right. The shots lay out almost every playing piece of the movie in a sort of before and after effect. They also gives the film a sense of depth that you otherwise don’t find in the rest of the film.
That brings me to my opinions on the plot, symbolism and what it all means for the characters in Rear Window. Rear Window is a very flat movie. I mean this in a visual standpoint, however I think it ties into the thematic elements the film is trying to convey. Pieces of the set are literally fake paintings. I don’t know if this was simply a means of saving money, or if it really was a symbolic choice. Either way it adds to the 2D feel of the film. Because most of the shots are taken from the perspective of the protagonist, Jeff, in his apartment, he sees the outside world through a lens. When he spies inside his neighbour’s rooms, he gets visual information from a single linear perspective. There are never any panning shots of the interiors of the neighbours’ rooms. If there is a cabinet against a wall, Jeff will always see it this way because he isn’t physically able to change his location or perspective significantly. The only ‘3D’ interior seen is Jeff’s apartment. You see several different angles in this room, and this is understandable because it is the room where most of the action takes place.
However, the 3D nature of his room is especially significant because it houses the few characters that the viewer is able to fully understand. It is in this room where one realizes the true brilliancy of the film. The fact is: Jeff is really out of place in that apartment. He heavily identifies as a sort of adventurer: world-weary, an old man hardened by many years through the worldwide lens. He even brags about his escapades to Lisa and implies that her socialite personality would never apply to his adventurous lifestyle. This puts down the roots in the viewer’s subconscious. He’s an old guy,
Unfortunately, Jeff loves to judge books by their cover. Of all the countries he’s visited, of all the people he has met, he continues to judge based on stereotypes. You would think that over the years he would be able to find the depth in personality and in emotions, in the world and in culture. Jeff views Lisa and his neighbours as flat personalities, comic in their respective cliques, interconnected by the brick and mortar confines of an apartment complex.
But, if they were so flat, so boring, and stereotypical, then why is Jeff so enraptured in their daily activities?
Rear Window is Jeff’s realization of the true depth of human character. During his time around the world, he was oversaturated with cultural information. Names, places, photos, clients, jobs. He never saw the forest for the trees. Jeff never understood the true scope of one’s emotions. To focus in and experience the true depth of the human condition is an act all to alien for this photographer.
That is, until now.
In the apartment, he is able to examine every move a neighbour makes. This ‘flat’, one-sided view develops form. Through voyeurism, Jeff develops a huge understanding of his neighbours. So much understanding in fact, that he is able to root out secrets he was never supposed to find out. It’s quite ironic that Jeff is able to become so engrossed with the very lifestyle he once scoffed at.
In the end, Rear Window is a sort of self-realization for Jeff, and that’s what helps bring a deep plot to such a flat-shot film.