Voyeurism: Hitchcock's Obsession When looking at two of Alfred Hitchcock's most critically acclaimed movies, Rear Window and Vertigo, it may be difficult to tell that they are similar in any way. But after further review, it becomes fairly evident that the two films share a strong common bond. Hitchcock uses voyeurism as a main theme in both of these masterpieces, and the voyeurism is connected in many surprising ways: it is evident in the careers of the male voyeurs, causes serious damage to their relationships, and changes from unauthorized looking into neighborliness. The voyeurism used in Rear Window is very similar to that used in Vertigo. First off, the male protagonists, Jefferies and Scottie, are both employed in fields that involve the use of voyeurism. The voyeurism also causes serious damage to the relationships of both the men.
Thirdly, both Jefferies and Scottie try to "fetish ize" their female counterparts, Lisa and Judy, respectively, and make them into something of their own image; something that the women simply are not. Finally, the unauthorized looking in both of the films changes to looking out for and caring for their fellow man; in other words, voyeurism turns into neighborliness. In Rear Window, voyeurism is perhaps the most permeating theme throughout the entire movie. This unauthorized viewing is almost exclusively done by Jefferies. The voyeurism, however, causes him some serious problems. In Rear Window, the voyeurism is readily apparent even in the first few minutes of the film.
As it is revealed, Jefferies is a photographer. A photographer is the epitome of a voyeur, as in the course of the job it is routine to peer into the life of something, whether it is a plant, an animal, or a person. As Robert Stam and Roberta Pearson point out in their essay, "Hitchcock's Rear Window: Reflexivity and the Critique of Voyeurism,"His profession of photojournalism assumes and exploits a kind of voyeurism" (197). However, since Jefferies's boss refuses to let him go back to work, he applies his work to his home-life, using his binoculars to look in on the lives of his neighbors, making mental pictures where he used to make physical ones. It appears harmless at first, but soon devolves into a primal urge to see exactly what is going on in his neighbors' lives. Jefferies enjoys watching the everyday habits of his neighbors.
He takes great pleasure in watching Miss Torso dance around in her apartment, Mr. and Mrs. Thorwald bicker and argue, and the composer struggle with his music. However, Jefferies's gratification doesn't come from simply watching his neighbors, it comes from him not being seen. Instead of sitting in the open and risking discovery, he hides in the shadows.
But instead of admitting he has a serious problem, he tries to rationalize it. He doesn't have anything better to do, and this is the most exciting form of entertainment at his disposal. Besides, it seems like it doesn't hurt anybody. However, the voyeurism actually causes damage to many relationships that Jefferies is involved in.
First off, it hurts his relationship with Lisa. Tania Modleski points out that "Jefferies's voyeurism goes hand in hand with an absorbing fear of mature sexuality" in her essay, "The Master's Dollhouse: Rear Window" (75). It is obvious from the film that Lisa is interested in marrying Jefferies. However, Jefferies's voyeurism shows that he is afraid of a mature relationship, and that he'd much rather watch other women from a distance instead of talk to, fall in love with, and touch a real, flesh-and-blood woman.
As Donald Spoto points out in his book, The Art of Alfred Hitchcock, "Intimacy frightens Jeff, and he exploits every opportunity to reject Lisa" (221). This causes Lisa much anguish, because she really loves Jefferies. To divert his attention from his mini-movie, Lisa has to dress up in sexy lingerie, and still has to close the curtain to keep Jefferies from his primal obsession. But Jefferies also fractures his relationships with his close neighbors through his voyeurism.
He doesn't take time to get to know them as real people, but instead knows them by the silly monikers he attaches to them, such as Miss Torso and Miss Lonleyhearts. He knows nothing about them, and because of this he has to make up stories about them from his imagination. Thus, instead of getting to know them better, he totally disregards the fact that they are real people and considers them simple characters in his fantasy movie. Jefferies has a serious fear of a mature relationship.
He fears a relationship with Lisa because she is a powerful woman. He rejects her as being too perfect, which at first seems absurd, but when inspected further, there is a real chance that the perfection scares him and makes him feel less masculine (Modleski 76). However, deep down he loves Lisa. But to be able to accept her, he must first bring her down to his level.
He does this in multiple steps. First, he gets her interested in the story of Mr. and Mrs. Thorwald. After he does this, he gets her obsessed with the story, so much so that she would break into an apartment to search for clues of a supposed murder. When she does this, it shows that his influence on her is very strong.
Soon afterwards you see her in regular street clothes, not the expensive dresses that are normally expected of people like her. Also, you see her reading Beyond the High Himalayas, a book that someone like Lisa normally would not read. But this change is not total, as Lisa pulls out a copy of Harper's Bazaar, showing her true intentions. As Spoto points out, Beyond the High Himalayas was a simple ploy to win the confidence of Jefferies (224). Thus, try as Jefferies might, he cannot totally make Lisa into what he really wants her to be. Jefferies' voyeurism definitely damages relations with his neighbors when it is just starting.
However, as the film develops, so does the voyeurism. As Mary P. Nichols and Denise Schaeffer say in their essay, "Art and Liberalism in Hitchcock's Rear Window,"Looking can invade the privacy of others and objectify them, or it can reveal its objects as subjects and preserve their human dimension." Although the voyeurism starts off as unauthorized looking, it develops into a caring for his fellow man. In the scene where Lisa is breaking into Thorwald's apartment, Jefferies's primal urge to see exactly what his neighbors are doing gets the best of him yet again, and he begins to look at Miss Lonleyhearts. When he notices, with the help of Stella, that she is going to commit suicide, he calls the police to alert them of the possible problem. This shows that his views have developed.
He no longer sees Miss Lonleyhearts, and the other neighbors, simply as characters in his imagination, having no real lives. He finally sees them as real people, with real feelings, real emotions, and real lives. When he fully realizes his point, his voyeurism stops altogether, even though his legs are still broken. This also is apparent in his relationship with Lisa after that point. He is no longer afraid of a mature relationship, as he is now in a real relationship with Lisa. He no longer has to go back to his primal urges of voyeurism, because he has something much better to fill his time; Lisa.
In one of Hitchcock's most complex movies, Vertigo, there are many themes that appear throughout the movie. At first glance, voyeurism may not appear to be one of those themes. But there are many startlingly close comparisons that can be made. In Vertigo, the theme of voyeurism does not seem to appear early on. However, as it is revealed, Scottie is a retired police officer. In a job such as a police officer, voyeurism is almost a given.
A policeman, at one time or another, much search for clues about a crime or another incident. In doing so, a policeman would constantly be looking around. In some instances, they would have to study a person from a distance for clues about a crime or other incident, and much of the time the person has no idea that they are being watched. This is voyeurism in its purest sense: watching someone without their permission. But since Scottie has been afflicted with vertigo, he must retire from the police. However, he ends up getting hired as a private investigator by his old schoolmate, Galvin Elster, to be a private investigator and watch Madeline, Elster's wife.
As a private investigator, he must use voyeurism extensively to examine and investigate the behaviors of Madeline. In fact, the abbreviation of a private investigator is P. I. , or more commonly known as a private eye. And in reality, this is a very accurate description of what a private investigator does. He or she acts as the eyes of someone else, observing where someone else cannot.
This is exactly what happens with Scottie, who acts as Galvins' eyes, observing Madeline's behavior from a distance when Galvin simply cannot. Even having the name "private eye" attached to his name shows that Scottie is a perfect example of a voyeur. Much like Jefferies in Rear Window, Scottie's voyeuristic obsession with "Madeline" causes serious damage to his relationship with the woman he's involved with at the beginning of the film. Scottie is obviously involved with Midge in one way or another. Scottie is frequently seen at Midge's apartment, and the two talk about going to dinner and movies. It is also revealed that the two were in fact engaged for a few weeks when they were in college.
Obviously, they go far back. But when Scottie gets very involved in his job of observing Madeline, he pays less and less attention to Midge. Finally, when Midge spots Madeline's car at Scottie's apartment, she assumes that the two had slept together and gets furious. It appears that Scottie would rather be with somebody who has been the subject of his voyeurism, and thus is under his power, instead of a person that he knows and obviously has some strong feelings for. Although Scottie's voyeurism causes some serious damage in his relationship with Midge, it actually turns into friendliness, and later love, for the one who he is investigating. When Scottie starts investigating Madeline, it's just business as usual, looking for clues on how to first diagnose and then treat her mental problems.
But the moment that Madeline jumps into the Golden Gate Bay, Scottie jumps in after her, showing that he has compassion for his fellow man. Madeline is first perplexed as to how all this happened, but then she is most grateful towards Scottie. Very soon after this, Madeline and Scotty fall in love. Even though voyeurism is inherently an anti-neighborly and unfriendly act, it slowly leads to caring, compassion, and love for the one being observed in this case. After the story progresses a bit and Midge is out of the picture, Scottie goes on a pitiful search for Madeline, and through generalizations thinks he sees her in a few different women as he walks down the street. When one of these women, Judy, finally gives him the time of day, Scottie immediately tries to make her into something she is not.
Marian E. Keane explains in her essay, "A Closer Look at Scopophilia: Mulvey, Hitchcock, and Vertigo," that "[... ] Scottie 'reconstructs Judy as Madeline, forces her to conform in every detail to the actual physical appearance of his fetish'" (236). Scottie starts off changing her outfit, and in the scene that he is clothes shopping with Judy, the sales clerk says that Scottie "really knows what he wants." This is true. Scottie really does know what he wants: Madeline.
However, he cannot have her, so he tries to sculpt her from Judy. He continues this when he takes her to the hair salon to get her hair turned blonde. When she comes back from the salon, something still isn't right. Scottie then forces her into the bathroom to change her hairstyle. When she comes back, Scottie's work is done. Judy looks exactly like Madeline, and Scottie falls in love again.
But soon afterwards, Scottie finds out that Madeline was just a ploy. The Madeline that he fell in love with doesn't exist. The woman that he designed was fake. As is rather easy to see, the voyeurism in both of the films has much in common.
First off, the jobs of both Jefferies and Scottie are involved with voyeurism in very obvious ways. Jefferies is a photographer; a man who goes around observing and capturing images of people, places, or things, many times without their consent. Scottie works as a private investigator; a man who follows a woman around, observing her when someone else simply cannot, without permission from the woman being followed. Both of these jobs are explicitly voyeuristic. Another rather obvious connection between the voyeurism in Rear Window and Vertigo is that it causes many problems with relationships for the male protagonists in the films. With Jefferies, the voyeurism not only causes problems in his relationship with Lisa, showing that he'd rather look at a woman from afar instead if actually touch a woman up close, but it also causes problems with his relationships with his neighbors.
The voyeurism promotes uncaring between neighbors, and instead of neighbors helping each other when they are in need, voyeurs will simply watch the misfortune unfold; a rather harsh way of dealing with problems, and a real problem in relations between friends. A third connection between the voyeurism of both films is that both Jefferies and Scottie use their voyeurism to try and change women into something that they are not. Jefferies does this by getting Lisa interested in things that he is interested in, then getting her obsessed, and then finally influencing her dress style to be that of a regular woman instead of a rich one. In Scottie's case, he influences Judy by first making her feel sorry for his loss, then getting her to dress like Madeline, and finally getting her to change her hair color and style to be that of Madeline's. However, both of the transformations fail in one way or another. Lisa still reads Harper's Bazaar, a premier fashion magazine.
This shows that while the outside might look different, the inside is still the same. And in Judy's case, the woman that Scottie tried to make her into was a fake; sure, Madeline was married to Galvin, but the story of her being possessed was fabricated by Galvin as a ploy to cover up the murder of the real Madeline. Judy just played the fake Madeline, and she did a remarkable job of it, enough to fool Scottie completely. Yet another connection between the voyeurism in the two films is that even though voyeurism is supposed to cause damage to relationships with neighbors, it actually turns into caring for their fellow man.
In other words, it actually turns into neighborliness. In Rear Window, Jefferies shows this transformation when he calls the police to alert them of Miss Lonleyhearts's potential suicide instead of watching the events unfold. In Vertigo, Scottie shows this in his falling for Madeline when he was simply supposed to observe her odd behavior. In conclusion, there are many links between the voyeurism in two seemingly unlike movies, Rear Window and Vertigo.
Both of the male protagonists work in jobs that involve voyeurism. The voyeurism causes problems with relationships in both of the men's lives. Both of the men try to make women into something that they are not. And the voyeurism in the films changes from an unauthorized looking, an antithesis to neighborliness, to caring for their fellow man, the very essence of neighborliness.
When interpreted, this could show many more connections between these two seemingly different movies, and give some insight on the man behind the genius, Alfred Hitchcock. List of Sources Deutelbaum, Marshall, and Leland Poague, eds. A Hitchcock Reader. Iowa State University: Ames, 1986. Keane, Marian E.
"A Closer Look at Scopophilia: Mulvey, Hitchcock, and Vertigo." Deutelbaum and Poague 193-206. Modleski, Tania. The Woman Who Knew Too Much. New York: Routledge, 1988.
Nichols, Mary P. and Denise Schaeffer. "Art and Liberalism in Hitchcock's Rear Window." Perspectives on Political Science 28. 3 (1999): 2 April 2001. Rear Window. Dir.
Alfred Hitchcock. Perf Grace Kelly and James Stewart. Videocassette. Universal, 1990. Stam, Robert, and Roberta Pearson. "Reflexivity and the Critique of Voyeurism." Deutelbaum and Poague 231-248 Vertigo.
Dir Alfred Hitchcock. Perf. Kim Novak and James Stewart. Videocassette. Universal, 1996.