Do You See What I See? : An analysis of theme in Rear Window’s “Meet the Neighbors” scene Rear Window, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, introduces a plot about the voyeur-esque lifestyle that has overcome L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries while being temporarily immobile in his New York apartment. The viewer is given a visual introduction to the neighbors that live in the same area as Jeff, as the camera pans left and right by the different windows across the courtyard. The panning of the camera imitates the moving eye, as if the viewer himself is looking.
Encountering all of the inhabitants for the first time personalizes their characters, and in turn establishes the themes of relationships and voyeurism in the film. Through music, camera use, and mise-en-scene, Hitchcock concocts a melange of filmography tactics to aid in the development of these themes in the film. Music conducts a large role in this film and as William Shakespeare once quoted “if music be the food of love, play on”. As the camera observes the neighbors, the song “To See You Is To Love You” by Bob Hope plays eloquently and subsequently harmonizes with the ongoing themes of voyeurism and relationships.
The title of this song, upon grammatical dissection, illustrates the ideas of voyeurism: “To See You” and relationships: “To Love You”. This song inevitably draws to its source in the composer’s apartment which, as the viewer shortly finds out, is the root of all the music in this film. The music is therefore diegetic because the piano playing is within the story space of the film. During the conversation between Lisa Freemont and Jeff, Lisa states that the music is “almost as if it were being written especially for us” as she is serving dinner to Jeff who replies facetiously “No wonder he’s having so much trouble with it”.
This interaction shows how Jeff is having difficulty remaining content with his relationship with Lisa due to his inability to see the woman she is past her perfection and splendor. In sum, Hitchcock intercepts the film’s artistic attempt to establish theme by establishing how music plays not only an entertainment role in the film but also produces a meticulously weaved storyline that assists in the development of the major themes. Two camera angles dominate the cinematography of this film: one that is first person (the eye of Jeff), and one that is omniscient.
The camera doubles over as a narrator and the viewer sees what Jeff sees, and in addition the viewer observes the interactions that transpire in Jeff’s apartment and more importantly, the Jeff’s reactions. The transition between the events in the neighbors’ apartments and Jeff’s reactions deepen the analysis of the scene. For instance when Jeff views the closed shutters of the Newlyweds’ apartment, insinuating sexual relations, his face is overcome by anguish and melancholy which infers a more personal reflection on his behalf.
The viewer can proceed to read into this reaction and eventually deduce that Jeff yearns for the joy in a relationship, something that he does not seem to have anymore. This ability to view Jeff’s various reactions during the film represents the omniscient camera. During the shooting of this scene, Hitchcock alternates back and forth through an action/reaction pattern. This pattern reinforces a pertinent motif in the film “a frame within a frame”. This frame within a frame is used throughout the movie, which examines what the viewer sees and implies an idea of perception as well.
Perception plays an integral role in the film and gets established later on, but as for now Hitchcock draws the thick line between “seeing” and “perceiving”. The mise-en-scene is important in developing the tone, emotion and meaning of a shot. The landscape presented looks very much like a stage set and upon further research it is stated that it was built to scale to represent Greenwich Village during that era. Through Jeff’s eyes, we are able to see many private activities performed by people who perceive to live in a private world — voyeurism at its finest.
The windows act as frames and Jeff gets to visually pick what channel he would like to watch, and each apartment represents a different aspect of the relationship between Jeff and Lisa. Character placement is interesting in the film because the actions that correspond between Jeff’s apartment and Miss Lonely Hearts’ apartment are somewhat parallel. It is noted that once Miss Lonely Hearts walks through her apartment, Lisa Freemont walks through Jeff’s, and soon after Jeff and Miss Lonely Hearts proceed to simultaneously cheers each other.
The synchronized salutation produces a smile on Jeff’s face to represent his content relationship status of being single. On the other hand, Miss Lonely Hearts is very upset which parallels with Lisa Freemont. Intentional positioning of certain objects, such as candles and windows, creates another frame within a frame (Once again, a motif). This example of mise-en-scene is seen when the candles and the windowpane frame Miss Lonely Hearts in her apartment, and at the same time Lisa is found on the other side of the table framed by two candlesticks.
These similarities hint strongly towards the similarities shared by both female characters. As Jeff and Lisa continue to spy on the neighbors, Jeff indicates Miss Torso’s apartment and claims that “we have a little apartment here that’s probably about as popular as yours” insinuating the ability Lisa has to potentially attract many other prosperous men. Lisa is thus characterized with the mentality of Miss Lonely Hearts and the physique of Miss Torso. The audience, Jeff and Lisa then see Lars and Mrs.
Thorwald. The way the camera repositions from room to room represents a definite lack of stability. The two married people are mainly shown in a different room doing something individual, representing separation. Combined instability and separation undoubtedly foreshadows what happens later in the film. Finally, the camera focuses on the man playing the piano who is entrapped visually and figuratively, and this is evident by his positioning in between the window panes.
It is understood that this echoes the piano player’s entrapment in the life that he is living. The imprisonment is felt also by Jeff who is stuck inside his apartment. Voyeurism and Relationship are two themes that Alfred Hitchcock intended to implement in this film, and he proves to do so through the previous examples. Through music, camera usage, and mise-en-scene, Rear Window examines these themes without explicitly telling the viewer what all the characters are feeling and experiencing.