Rear Window and the theme of people watching

rear window and people watching Charlotte Southall

Artwork by Charlotte Southall

Having recently watched Hitchcock’s classic film Rear Window, something that really caught my attention was the juxtaposition of the plot; the simplicity of never leaving Jeffries’ apartment paired with the complex, twisting mystery he finds himself accidentally drawn into. The accidental nature of his predicament is what got me thinking about our desire to pry and make assumptions about strangers. During the film not once do we enter another house or see anything that the characters in Jeffries flat cannot; this is what makes it all so clever. Hitchcock plays perfectly into our natural inclination to leap to conclusions and create scenarios merely from what we can see – often nothing is known about the subjects and no context is available, so ideas and presumptions can run wild. This tactic creates a magical and intriguing situation that leads to you not only being swept along with Jeffries obsession with what happened in the apartment opposite – but also in creating your own idea as to what happened and why.

The specks of information we and Jeffries are fed throughout the film serve to ignite our imagination and absorb ourselves into the lives of the people we are watching – and although witnessing a murder is on the extreme end of what is likely to occur when observing someone, the act itself is familiar to everyone and pushes you into questioning the assumptions you make on a day-to-day basis.

The art of people watching can be done anywhere at any time, and often subconsciously – all it takes is to be sitting by the window of a cafe and zoning out a bit and suddenly you find yourself in a prime seat for viewing what others are doing around you. Whilst it’s mostly a harmless activity and for many of us just a way to pass the time, Rear Window shows how easy it is to become obsessive and neurotic when you have access to what someone is doing but don’t have any context. I feel that Hitchcock used the premise of the film to explore human nature and our psyche on a deeper level – even if it meant revealing to the audience that observing other people is not as harmless as it first appears, especially when in the observers eyes an anomaly has occurred.

Fundamentally, Rear Window will always be a great film, one of Hitchcock’s best creations and an enthralling murder mystery – however it also serves as a reminder that we all participate in the art of people watching and all of us are guilty of nosing into others business; regardless of the consequences. What is left up to us though, is whether or not we heed Hitchcock’s advice – do we take notice? Or do we just let things slide?

by Megan Gibb


MEGAN GIBBMegan Gibb is a nearly 19 year old from Cambridge, based in Manchester for university and has been in love with all things film ever since she can remember. Her fave films are The Terminator, Drive, Forrest Gump and Fight Club but she also has a huge soft spot for 1980’s John Hughes films. Her main interests include shopping for vinyl, eating too much carrot cake and making wall collages of 80’s bands for her and her friends. She can be found on twitter @megang96 and blogs at popdunk.

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