Voyeurism in Rear Window

Topics: Rear Window, Sigmund Freud, Human sexuality Pages: 5 (1916 words) Published: May 21, 2002

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...

Bibliography: Clover, J Carol (1992) "The Eye Of Horror" in Men, Women and Chainsaws : Gender in the Modern Horror Film (London: BFI), pp.166-230.
Freud, Sigmund (1915) Instincts and their Vicissitudes in On Metapsychology (London: Penguin books), pp.105-138.
Lemire, Elise (2000) Voyeurism and the Postwar Crisis of Masculinity in Rear Window in John Belton (ed.) Alfred Hitchcock 's Rear Window (New York: Cambridge University Press), pp.57- 90.
Modleski, Tania (1988) The Women Who Knew Too Much (London: Routledge), pp.73-86
Mulvey, Laura (1990) "Afterthoughts on "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" inspired by Duel In The Sun" in E Ann Kaplan (ed.) Psychoanalysis and Cinema (London: BFI), pp. 24-35
Reber, Arthur S. (1985) "The Penguin dictionary of psychology" (London: Penguin Books), p.825
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