Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense Rear Window (1954) is focused on Jeff, formally L. B. Jefferies, a cooped up action-shot photographer. After being injured from work, Jeff is left with a full-leg cast and nothing to do but peer at his neighbors (a salesman with a spotty marriage, a dancer, a failing musician, a lonely woman and others) through his back window. Jeff’s girlfriend Lisa Fremont, a model and fashion consultant, and the enthusiastic Stella, Jeff’s home nurse, both assist Jeff by being his ‘feet on the ground and doing the actions he cannot due to his immobile condition.
Initially, Jeff is watching his neighbors for entertainment to help pass the time, but later Jeff narrows his focus onto Lars Thorwald, the salesman with the dissipating marriage, when he hears a loud scream. Jeff then notices Thorwald leaving and returning to his apartment twice that same night. Over the passing days, Jeff notices Thorwald’s wife has vanished. After this, Jeff recognizes Thorwald cleaning a butcher’s knife, calling a jeweler to appraise his wife’s jewelry, and washing the walls in his apartment. Jeff soon develops a supposition that Thorwald has murdered his wife.
Jeff calls Thomas Doyle, a private investigator and old friend, to delve into this mystery, but to Jeff’s dismay, Doyle shoots down the murder proposition because of the lack of evidence. Thus, Jeff devises a plan to expose Thorwald by having Lisa and Stella excavate his garden, where the body may be. Upon finding nothing, Lisa bravely chooses to enter Thorwald’s apartment while he is absent to retrieve his wife’s ring. Unfortunately, Thorwald comes home too soon for Lisa to escape and police must break up their struggle.
While being arrested, Lisa motions to Jeff, revealing his position. Thorwald waits for the police to take Lisa away then heads to Jeff’s apartment in an attempt to kill him. A struggle ensues, Thorwald is able to push Jeff out of his apartment window, before the police arrive, taking Thorwald away as he confesses to the murder of his wife. Jeff’s fall and Thorwald’s confession seems highly improbable soon after Thomas Doyle leaves Jeff’s apartment suggesting there to have been no homicide, leaving their murder mystery at a standstill.
Lisa and Jeff notice Miss Lonely Hearts (the lonely woman) bringing a man back to her apartment. Elated, she pours drinks for the two of them but later kicks him out for being too aggressive, then begins to sob uncontrollably. For the first time, Jeff notices he is being too intrusive into other peoples’ lives, and shamefully looks away. Jeff claims that Doyle “might have gotten a hold of something when he said that was pretty private stuff going on out there” (Rear Window). Jeff then poses two questions to Lisa that enlighten us to a major theme in the movie. Is it ethical… XXXXXX”.
Jeff’s questions are crucial to the understanding of the film as it is arguably the central question of the film, and it questions the entire basis of the film: Jeff watching his neighbors intently and bringing a criminal to justice. Jeff has been watching people argue, laugh, cry, and interact, invading their privacy in their own homes for two weeks. In the first question, Jeff asks too broad of a question to analyze ethics. However, his second question proposes his view on the ethics of voyeurism; that Jeff’s ethics were dependent on Thorwald.
Instead, I will later disprove Jeff’s thoughts, and prove that ethics are independent of the person being watched and entirely dependent on the acts of the individual. One might argue that had Jeff not intervened, Thorwald may have gotten away with murder. This argument supposes Jeff was the only person who could have proved Thorwald’s guilt, Jeff realized it, and acted accordingly. An argument against that theory is the case of Miss Lonely Hearts. In her most desperate time, she had a bottle of pills in her hand and was ready to end her life.
Jeff and Stella both saw this and were ready to phone the police had she tried to commit suicide. But when the musician began to play his music, she became lost in the melody, and was saved from her own madness. Events that did not involve Jeff kept her from ending her own life. This example can be used to explain that the natural course of events kept Miss Lonely Hearts alive. This scene shows us that the intervention was not needed on her part, she was saved without Jeff’s assistance.
Similarly, Thorwald’s guilt could have been proved without Jeff’s interference. Or One might also argue that Jeff had sufficient evidence to act as he did, to suspect Thorwald of murder. However, after telling Doyle, a professional detective by trade, Doyle refused to believe murder. Doyle’s remarks about how many knives he’s owned in his life or how many times he has cleaned his walls are entirely true. They are mundane, routine acts that do not warrant any evidence of murder in the slightest. Jeff was wild with his assumptions. Correct nonetheless, but wild.