Alfred Hitchcock was a master of mise-en-scène, whereby in film just about every inch of every frame of a film was intentional. Rear Window is one of his greatest and most influential films. Throughout, the viewer is at the mercy of Hitchcock, as he has already decided where you will look, what you will see, and maybe even what you will think or feel. From the perspective of Jeff's wheelchair, the viewer becomes a voyeur observing the the lives and relationships of his neighbors.

The dichotomy of relationships presented in Rear Window include:

  1. Jeff and Lisa:
    Lisa wants to settle down, get married. Jeff wants to remain together, but not marry. He appreciates his independence and the freedom his job as a news photographer provides him (a profession Lisa wants him to abandon for something more stable).

  2. Old married couple:
    Their lives, from the POV of the viewer are repetitive and largely-routine

  3. The young married couple:
    Their on-screen* time bounces from excited newlyweds to what appears to be useless banter.
    *Note that much of what we the viewer observe about them is not on- but off-screen, merely through dialogue heard through the window.

  4. The ballerina:
    She is entertaining (what appear to be) potential suitors throughout the movie, until the end when her (especially nerdy looking) boyfriend/husband comes home.

  5. 'Miss Lonelyhearts'
    A single woman living by herself, intent on finding a partner. She eventually goes on a date with a forceful man who she kicks out her apartment. Lisa and Jeff are especially interested in her, and express great concern for her safety when they believe she commits suicide. Near the finale of the movie, we see 'Miss Lonelyhearts' enchanted by music she hears coming from an apartment above her-- the partying musician-- and the viewer is left to assume they live happily ever after.

  6. The Thorwalds
    Mr. and Mrs. Thorwald (an invalid) fight often and loud-- until they suddenly don't. Jeff and Lisa pay more attention to them than anyone else in their view. This relationship and the one between Jeff and Lisa are the primary focus of Rear Window.

Hitchcock has given us, the viewer: a beautiful single woman, an old single woman, a newly-married couple, a old couple, a 'middle of the road' married couple and Jeff and Lisa-- whose status is passively changing throughout the film. Some are desperate to find a partner, while others are desperate to maintain their freedom. Is he saying that relationships have a life of their own, that all are different? That happiness is unattainable/attainable? That we put too much emphasis on our relationships? That marriage is an end to work toward? Or that autonomy and freedom are what saves us?

Considering the degree of directorial control Hitchcock employed, was he making a statement about 1950s gender politics and/or gender roles?

  • 1
    It has been a long time since I saw it last, but wasn't there even some kind of superimposed happy ending for Miss Lonelyhearts, with her starting a relationship with the lonely musician/pianist (that you forgot in the list) at the end. This might be worth adding and in this context the nerdy boyfriend of the ballerina might also be seen as some kind of conclusion (maybe intentionally breaking expectations).
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Jun 20, 2012 at 17:50
  • Yes to that suggestion, and I like the idea of breaking expectations!
    – stevvve
    Jun 20, 2012 at 18:18

1 Answer 1


Foremost Hitchcock critic Robin Wood has written two books on Hitchcock’s films which are available through your local library’s InterLibrary Loan (ILL) service if you live in the US (and a number of other countries as well): Hitchcock's Films (1977) and Hitchcock's Films Revisited (1989). He also wrote several essays in the book A Hitchcock Reader (Deutelbaum and Poague, 1986), which can be read in part on Google books. The chapter called “Male Desire, Male Anxiety: The Essential Hitchcock” addresses the film Rear Window (starting p. 223). This book is also widely available through ILL.

In A Hitchcock Reader, Wood discusses the theme of castration (signified by the broken leg and the smashed camera), and the reassertion of potency through the act of looking, first through eyes, then binoculars, then a “huge erect telescope.” Wood contends that Rear Window is about marriage as castration of the male – so a different twist on the interpretation in your question (and very interesting reading).

You might also be interested in the transcript of the documentary Rear Window Ethics. It includes a number of revealing quotes from Wood that support your suppositions in part:

  1. What I think is being shown here, seems to be one of the absolutely central themes of all Hitchcock's work. This goes right back to British period. It goes right through the American films. The terrible incompatibility of male and female positions, as they've been defined and have evolved within our culture.

  2. The man's viewpoint is one thing. The woman's is always another. And with all this is the idea of romantic love, what Miss Lonelyhearts is longing for, what the newlyweds were expecting, what Lisa wants. Hitchcock's view of romantic love is extremely sceptical, to say the least.

  3. I think one of Hitchcock's central concerns is the isolation of people within our society. The apartments reflect the sense that everybody is in a prison. Each person is in his or her own little prison. That all comes to a head, of course, in what I see as the crucial scene of the film, from this point of view anyway. The scene where the woman comes out on her balcony and sees her dog has been killed and accuses all the neighbours. It’s a kind of central statement, I think, in Hitchcock, is this whole idea of people not being able to reach out.

  4. I think another of Hitchcock's concerns is the way in which people build these protective facades around themselves, and claim this as their identity. It's a way of defending themselves against the unpredictability and chaos... of life.

  5. What the film eventually moves to at the end, is a kind of resolution of the Jefferies-Lisa relationship. A lot of people have found it cynical because Lisa, although she's dressed in adventure-type clothes, presumably ready to take off with Jefferies on some expedition, and is reading a book called "Beyond The High Himalayas" or something like that, puts it aside when she sees he's asleep and picks up Harper's Bazaar. It seems to me what Hitchcock is saying is not exactly cynical. It’s realistic. Male and female positions are, within the culture, incompatible, within the culture as it exists today. And to a great extent it exists now. Lisa is showing us, at the end, that she must retain a certain perspective of her own and interests of her own, that she will not abandon her own interests in life and her values in life for his. I think that's wonderful.


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