Rear Window, Social Media, and Relationships

Posted: September 18, 2014 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

From its opening shot, Hitchcock’s Rear Widow is a movie about watching. The camera slowly dollies forward, approaching and passing through an open window. A quick cut to a tracking shot of a cat in the courtyard is followed by an incredibly intricate long take. Slowly panning and tilting about, the camera eye reveals a series of surrounding apartments and silently watches unsuspecting inhabitants. Then, in a continuation of the same shot, Hitchcock pans far to the left—turning the camera back through the wMV5BMTg5MjM4NzEwOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDE1NjM0MTE@._V1__SX1394_SY642_indow from the opening shot—and stops in a closeup on the face of our protagonist. Cut to a quick shot of a thermometer, and then the process starts all over again. In another series of shots though the open window, the viewer is introduced to many of the characters with whom they will spend the next two hours. Hitchcock finally allows the camera to settle on our protagonist once again. This time, we see that he is confined to a wheelchair and in a full-leg cast. An inscription on said cast provides us with a name: “Here lie the broken bones of L.B. Jefferies.” We learn (mostly through Hitchcock’s brilliant camera work) that Jefferies (Jimmy Stewart) is a photographer who was injured while attempting to shoot a car race. Confined to his house by injury, Jefferies has nothing to do but watch his neighbors. It’s not long before he thinks he spots one of his neighbors trying to get away with murder. The problem lies in the burden of proof.

Not only is Rear Window a masterpiece overflowing with tension and suspense, it’s also a film that has a remarkable relevance for a 21st century audience. For instance, the idea that obsession with the lives of others can destroy personal relationships—one of the films more ancillary themes— is perhaps more pertinent now than it was when the film was released in 1954. The age of social media, it appears, has made us all more like L.B. Jefferies than we might care to admit.

Throughout the course of the film, Jefferies becomes obsessed with watching his neighbors, especially the angry-looking man he suspects is guilty of murder. He spends entire days sitting in front of his window—looking, watching, waiting. His caretaker, Stella (Thelma Ritter), comes by and tries to have a conversation with him, but he is too preoccupied with the murder and answers every question with a detached and disinterested “uh huh.” In addition, Jefferies becomes disconnected from his girlfriend, Lisa (Grace Kelly), as a result of his newfound preoccupation. At one point, as she sits in his lap kissing him, she says, “pay attention to me.”

To which he responds, ‘I’m not exactly on the other side of the room.”

“Your mind is,” she retorts.

Jefferies is so consumed with the lives of others that he is willing to let his real life relationships fall by the wayside. As the plot thickens, the only conversations Jefferies has are about the suspected murder and the rest of his neighbors. He allows this strange set of circumstances to control his life, his relationships, and his thoughts. Having spent hours staring out across the courtyard and into windows of his neighbors, Jefferies assumes that he knows everything there is to know about them, when, in actuality, he has exchanged the grand narrative of reality for little windows—miniature worlds and diminished narratives—and binoculars.

In this manner, the issues addressed in Rear Window shed light on a contemporary issue. Have we not become like Jefferies? Look around. Two people sit in the same room and text instead of talk. A man sits entranced, constantly refreshing his Facebook feed hoping to hear the latest from his “friends,” while ignoring his wife and children. We prefer screens to people and have convinced ourselves that we truly know the hundreds (or thousands) of friends we have on social media. We have forsaken face-to-face relationships for virtual ones. In truth, we were meant for real, flesh-and-blood relationships; everything else is just a substitute—mere mediation.[1] Author and blogger Tim Challies’ diagnosis of this problem is astute:

We [have] become digitally disincarnated, people who can live and be online, present only in virtual, mediated sense. Increasingly who we are is no longer the person people meet face-to-face, but the mediated identity we have created.[2]

If the above is true, perhaps the caretaker from Rear Window was not far from the truth when she said that “what people ought to do is get outside their own house and look in for a change.” We need to put down our phones and computers, turn off the TV, and honestly look at ourselves, recognizing that Christ lived, died, and was resurrected so that we could have a real and lasting relationship with Him. Only then—when we repent of our sins and turn to Christ—can we begin to live lives that are worthy of the gospel by loving our neighbor more than our smartphone.

  1. Challies Tim, The Next Story: Life and Faith After the Digital Explosion (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2011), 94.  ↩
  2. ibid (99).  ↩

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