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Voyeurism in Rear Window

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In this essay, I shall try to illustrate whether analysing the movie Rear Window as a classical example of the Freudian concept of voyeurism, is appropriate. Voyeurism is defined in The Penguin dictionary of psychology as:

"Voyeurism: characterized by a pattern of sexual behaviour in which one's preferred means of sexual arousal is the clandestine observing of others when they are disrobing, nude or actually engaged in sexual activity. Arousal is dependent upon the observed person(s) not being aware of their being observed. (Arthur S. Reber, 1985, p.825)".

Freud used the term "scopophilia" to describe the initial stages of the tendency to look. According to Freud, scopophilia can be active and passive. What is known to us as voyeurism is the active form of scopophilia. He believed that the first stage we might experience the need to look and get pleasure from it, is our childhood. Freud also believed that during our childhood years, the discovery of our sexual identity is linked to the perception of women as the "weak sex". He thought that the male child instinctively knows that by having a phallus he can give sexual pleasure to the powerful figure of the mother. That gives the male child the felling of superiority opposite the female who thinks that it used to have a penis too but she has been castrated. That is why her role in life is passive.

Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window is, in my opinion, an example of how Freudian theory can be applied to classical Hollywood narrative. The movie centres around a middle-aged photographer (Jeff) who has been immobilised due to an accident he had in the line of work. He spends the last days of his "captivity" looking outside his window. His talent for observation leads him into suspecting that his neighbour killed his wife. In his effort to prove this to his detective friend, he is being assisted by his girlfriend (Lisa) and his nurse (Stella).

This film constructs a very powerful connection between the different kinds of looks and between the audience and the characters of the film. Although there are 3 kinds of looks associated with cinema, (the crew filming, the audience watching it and the look between the characters) we see a connection between the voyeuristic tendency of Jeffries looking out of the windows (that resemble small cinematic screens) and the audience watching his actions on a big cinema screen. We also see whatever is happening in the film through shadows, which is what cinema screening is in the first place. Most of Jeffries' spying takes place in the night, in the darkness. We, as spectators, are seating in the dark, watching too. This makes us uncomfortably conscious of whatever is happening in the film. We are voyeurs, the same as Jeff, drawing up pleasure by watching into people's houses.

Jeff and Lisa are two characters with contrasting style of life. On one hand, Jeff lives "out of one suitcase", he does not want to get married and he likes to wear combat trousers. Lisa, on the other hand, works in the fashion industry; she wants to get married and likes to wear $1100 dresses. Even their "perversions" are different. Jeff gets sexually aroused by watching his neighbours while Lisa gets aroused when she dresses up for him to show her latest buy.

In human history through time, the male would be out in the world, leaving his mark. But because of Jeff's injury, he has to rely on the female figures of the movie. This is leaving him with the sense of temporary castration and without any sexual desires. He has to replace his stimulus with whatever he can: in this instance, watching his neighbours leading their lives. His need for voyeurism has reached the point of perversion. In the beginning of the film, after he takes a look around the neighbourhood, his leg itches him. He relieves it with a wooden spoon and his motion reminds me of masturbation. His face lights with satisfaction, like he had just relieved himself.

The only activity that can bring him sexual pleasure is watching the people opposite. He is obsessed with what is happening outside his house and not at all interested in the woman who sits next to him. That can only mean that he can derive sexual pleasure only through looking. And the satisfaction he gets when he scratches seems to be more than when seeing Lisa appearing in a sexy nightwear.

Close to the end of the movie, she enters his line of vision by going opposite to the Thorwald's apartment, and becomes the point of focus for his sexual interest, giving him the chance to save her and emerge heroic. Seeing her through his lens has made Jeff reconsider his opinions on marital bliss and the adventurous side of her proves that he has a future with her.

Throughout the film, I have to remember that this is a professional voyeur. He is paid to look at people through a lens. So I have to say that looking is an essential part of his everyday life. In a conversation he has with his nurse in the beginning of the film, she tells him that " We have become a race of peeping toms" reinforcing our suspicions about Jeff's part in the narrative.

In a conversation he has with his editor from the magazine, he tells him that he has to get him out of there before he does something drastic. Then the camera shows us the Thorwald's house, taking us where Jeff's look is pointing. "Can you just see me rushing home to a hot apartment to listen to the automatic laundry and the electric dishwasher and the garbage disposal and a nagging wife?" We immediately see the image of Anna nagging. Elise Lemire, in the essay Voyeurism and the post-war crisis of masculinity (Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, 2000, pp. 57-90) says that in this way, Hitchcock makes it clear that he uses the camera to record and project Jeff's fears and desires.

As mentioned earlier, Jeff's injury brings him frustrating feelings of castration and leaves him sexually incompetent. He can only be an active voyeur, rather than an active lover. We can see how his low interest in sex is manifested by the lack of interest for Lisa. She is standing next to him and he chooses to concentrate on the actions of his neighbours. He knows he cannot live up to her expectations and so he chooses to become an active and, sometimes, aggressive observer. He uses his binoculars first but, as this is not intrusive enough, he soon exchanges it for his lens, which resembles a gun. He has the power to shoot whenever he wants and destroy lives. I cannot miss noticing that his lens also resembles the phallus.

Freudian theories



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