The opening scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) immediately primes us to the exploration of the subjective and objective in the film. The credits are displayed as the curtains of theapartment’s windows rise mimicking the curtain rise of a Theatre play and slowly revealing the courtyard beyond. This establishes our viewpoint from inside the apartment and our relation to the events of the courtyard as distant viewers.
As the opening scene plays on, we get introduced to the courtyard and finally pause on Jefferies, who we find confined to the apartment with a broken leg and we quickly learn about his action packed life as a photographer. We discover that we share the same viewpoint as Jefferies and immediately form a bond with him. We also learn about his frustration and boredom due to his confinement, which strengthens our bond with him because, in a sense, we too are confined to the single viewpoint established earlier on.
To entertain himself, Jefferies starts to watch his neighbors from the open window and in a sequence of shot-reverse shot (Example Below), we start to view the courtyard through Jefferies’ lenses, establishing the subjective nature of the story in the first 3 minutes.
As soon as this subjective relation is formed, the nurse enters the apartment to attend to Jefferies. She provides us with the first objective break as she questions the morality of Jefferies' “peeping”. This initiates a pattern of objective outlooks, that is later followed by Lisa and the detective, which not only make us question the morality of the situation but also Jefferies’ sanity and the validity of his claims that Thorwald killed his wife.
As our doubt intensifies with each objective outlook, we start experiencing cognitive dissonance as a result of our shared viewpoint and the continuous subjective approach. Ironically, as Jefferies shares the same doubts, this further strengthens our relationship with him.
The strengthening of this bond and understanding the importance of relating to Jefferies is key to viewing and analyzing the film. It makes us get inside his head and understand his thoughts and opinions. These opinions make up the themes of the film and are manifested physically in the architecture of the courtyard and its surrounding buildings.
One dominating theme and opinion throughout the film is that of marriage. Jefferies is against marriage. He seems somewhat reluctant to marry Lisa, coming up with excuses such as “she is too perfect”. Later on, he states explicitly that he doesn’t want to come home to a nagging wife, referring to Thorwald’s (The Salesman) wife in the apartment opposite the courtyard. This reference suggests that each apartment could be seen as a window into his thoughts and what his life could be like. With this theory in place, it is interesting to see the architectural relation between the different apartments and their tenants and how this ties in with how Jefferies views his life.
As visible in the plan, the two apartments directly opposite from Jefferies' are those of the Dancer (A beautiful blonde) and the Thorwald's (A couple with a bad marriage that ended with the wife being murdered). Both apartments represent Jefferies' allure towards the single life. The dancer represents the freedom of not being tied down to one woman and the Thorwalds represent everything Jefferies fears of marriage. They are constantly present and remain a reminder to Jefferies throughout the film. It is only in the closing scene that we obtain a contrasting outlook. This is reflected in both of the apartments opposite Jefferies, with Thorwald and his wife no longer there and by the dancer’s fiance who returns to her apartment at the end of the film.
Accompanying Jefferies dislike of commitment is his fear of ending up alone. This is architecturally reflected in two ways. The first is in the zoning - the apartment closest to Jefferies is that of a newlywed couple. This couple are the only ones who have their curtains down and this reflects the intrigue Jefferies has about marriage and that his opinion is not that solid. The second is a matter of levels, as visible in the section drawing. 4 of the 5 main apartments, along with Jefferies apartment, reside on the first floor with only Miss Lonelyhearts (an elderly and lonely woman who cries herself to sleep and contemplates suicide) occupying a ground floor apartment. Thus, she is literally being looked down on throughout the film. Miss Lonelyhearts presents what Jefferies life could be like if he lets go of Lisa. She represents Jefferies' fear of being alone. Placing her even lower than the Thorwalds says a lot about how Jefferies truly feels about Lisa. Once again, the final scene provides a contrasting outlook, with the murder finally resolved and with Jefferies and Lisa finally happily together.