Rear Window

Rear Window ★★★★½

The gimmick of Rear Window is that every shot in the film is supposed to be a shot from some point in James Stewart's apartment. Except one. During the scene where the dog is found dead, Hitchcock breaks his rule once and only once with a shot that could not conceivably been shot through the titular window: after Ms Lonelyhearts puts the limp dog in the basket for the owners to hoist up, the woman who owns the dog tearfully berates the neighborhood, not knowing who killed her dog. And then, she berates all of humanity, really, or at least the way the concept of neighborly love has been destroyed. This is where the shot comes- we suddenly get a medium-close shot on just Ms Lonely Hearts, coming from somewhere very to the LEFT and extremely IN FRONT of Stewart's window. The camera is somewhere in the plaza with her, although it doesn't really matter. Where it really is is the place where Hitchcock could feel most perfectly captured the subjective experience of Ms Lonelyheart, the essence of her emotional state in that moment. And she is torn up. This is a woman who has experienced crushing loneliness, attempt after attempt meeting failure, and even traumatic sexual assault.

And yet we sense this moment is a tipping point, her emotions so crucial to experience that Hitchcock, one of the most deliberate of all directors, broke the main rule of his film just to see it. I love this, because this shot has no worth to the plot. It isn't Hitchcock cheating for a closeup of a plot item- no, for those, he shoulders the burden of his rigid experiment and employs clever work-arounds. In fact, he could have done the same with this shot. There's no reason, for instance, that Ms Lonelyhearts couldn't have had her back against the opposite wall, and the closeup be achieved by Stewart observing her through his telephoto lens. Any director who was clever enough to design the set and storyboard for this film could have easily seen that workaround.

He broke the rule deliberately. He specifically wants us to disassociate this moment from LB Jeffries' point of view. This is her moment, and her moment entirely. And it's so perfect.

See, later Ms Lonelyhearts attempts suicide at a moment extremely essential to the plot- it's likely that if she didn't do that, Grace Kelley wouldn't have been saved by the police. And that moment had the ability to be so ruinous for the film. Couldn't you just see it? Do a quick and easy set up of a crushingly depressed woman who lives in the same building as the murderer, and then BAM, easy peasy way to get the police at his apartment for a tense moment. It could've seemed very fake, it could've seemed quite shallow and heartless, actually, and basically it could've seemed amateurish. "What a conveniently placed suicidal person!" Oh and then the music saves her. "Cute".

But that shot, that three second shot, solves the whole thing. This isn't just a woman who's a sad old maid being established as an archetype just to be used later as a plot point. This is a woman who we share an intimate moment with- just us and us alone, without Stewart- the moment where she learns just how ugly humanity is. This is the tipping point. Hating yourself is one thing, hating yourself and having your hope for beauty in the world demolished is another thing entirely. And so her suicide attempt feels tragic rather than fake, her story feels like part of a tapestry of humanity rather than a shallow Chekov's gun, and the moment where she hears the music and puts away the sleeping pills is tender rather than saccharine.

It's a moment of great clarity for Hitchcock, a moment where he identifies exactly what's gross about the things we are expected to put up with in the standard Hollywood nail-biter. And he recognized an opportunity to supplement his taut thrills with glimpses of humanity as deep and refreshing as those found in a Renoir. And he doesn't have a doubt in his heart: to have that is worth breaking the rules.

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