What to Watch For in Rear Window

In preparation for our free screening of Rear Window, and the accompanying lecture by Professor Robert Pippin, we would like to share these helpful questions to consider while watching the movie. These questions, supplied by Pippin himself, will help shape discussion and hopefully help us understand the philosophical significance of the movie.

  1. Many Hollywood movies have double plots and Rear Window is a good example. There is the attempt by Jeff to prove his suspicions are correct and Thorwald is a murderer and there is the plot that concerns his fraught romantic relationship with Lisa. Thus the obvious question: what is the relation between the two plots? Why did Hitchcock make a movie that shows us the two plots developing simultaneously? How does the resolution of the suspected murder plot bear on the resolution of the romantic plot?
  2. At one point, Lisa says she is not good at “rear window ethics.” What are rear window ethics? What does Stella mean when she says that “we have become a nation of peeping toms”?
  3. Watch for Hitchcock’s cameo appearance. Why does he choose to present himself in that manner in this film?
  4. Many people have noticed that Jeff seems to be a figure for a movie watcher, looking out at windows that seem like movie or TV screens. And he is a photographer, which would appear to make him also a figure for a director. What is Hitchcock trying to say about movie watching, or directing, or perhaps more generally about the relation between aesthetic pleasure and ethics? Is there something wrong with what Jeff is doing? If there is, could there be something wrong with taking pleasure in movie watching?
  5. Is the story of Miss Lonelyhearts a digression, or do her story, the story of Miss Torso, the composer, the newlyweds, and the older couple with the dog, all have something in common with the main two plots? What is that commonality?
  6. What does the final scene tell us about the “resolution” of the romance between Jeff and Lisa?
  7. Rear Window is the first of what are considered Hitchcock’s three greatest films, along with Vertigo and North by Northwest. All three involve men in their late forties/early fifties (James Stewart in two, Cary Grant in the third) who are unmarried or divorced, and deeply resistant to stable relationships with women and especially to marriage. Note what Jeff says at the beginning of the film to his editor about his view of marriage. Does the film seem to establish a point of view about such attitudes, suggest an explanation, point to a flaw in these men, or treat the attitude as normal?

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