Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 production Rear Window is indeed a film primarily concerned with masculinity, or better yet emasculation, and the male gaze. The central character L. B. Jefferies, or Jeff, is a newspaper photographer who recently broke his leg snapping pictures at an auto race. He is now confined to a wheelchair and spends all of his time observing his neighbors from his Greenwich Village Apartment window. When he sees what he believes to be a murder, he takes it upon himself to solve the crime. Aided by his nurse and beautiful girlfriend he attempts to catch the murderer, Mr.
Thorwald, in the end proving his masculinity unquestionable. For the most part the audience views the film from Jeff’s apartment, or through Jeff’s eyes, immediately providing understanding of his male gaze and the changes it goes through. Evidence and traits of this male gaze are seen constantly throughout the film in both areas of gender and class. During the film we are pushed to see women as either objects of pity or sexual beings. This can be seen by the way he describes both his neighbor’s wife and his potential wife as “Nagging” and “Frivolous. Jeff also comments on his neighbor, Miss Torso, while peering out his window claiming her to be the opposite; single, young and probably being nagged at. I believe Jeff’s relationship with Lisa Fremont gives us a much larger view into his male gaze. Their relationship is getting to the point of marriage and Jeff clearly has some reservations. Lisa tries extremely hard to persuade Jeff into the thought of marriage because she wants to be the object of his gaze. However he refuses her advances and just asks her to join him while he stares out into the courtyard.
Clearly Jeff is not ready for marriage and this is accurately shown in the following quote. “Maybe one day she’ll find happiness. ” “Yeah, and some man’ll lose his. ” Class also plays a role in this male gaze and specifically regarding Jeff and Lisa’s relationship. Lisa is a classy an elegant Park Avenue girl who wants Jeff to give up his traveling photographer job for a blue collar office job in order to settle down with her. At one point in the film all she can talk about is how outrageous some outfit was at a cocktail party followed by a rant about her new dress and how much she spent on it.
These are clearly priorities that do not concern Jeff and reestablish the belief that he is not ready for marriage ultimately shaping his male gaze negatively towards women. Although Jeff’s male gaze is initially stubborn, as the crime unravels Lisa becomes more desperate to seek his approval and their roles start to transform. The first sign of this transformation is when Lisa makes Jeff an offer: “I’ll trade you my feminine intuition for a bed for the night. ” So far in the film feminine intuition had been thrown by the wayside, for example when Jeff laughed at the thought of his nurse predicting the stock market crash of 1929.
Although now Jeff accepts Lisa’s help and it seems as though he wants her around. By this point in the film Jeff and Lisa are convinced Mr. Thorwald is the murderer and are willing to go to extreme lengths to prove it. Jeff provides distractions to get Mr. Thorwald to leave his house so Lisa can go in and do some snooping. The second she crosses the courtyard and climbs into Thorwald’s apartment she becomes a desired object of Jeff’s male gaze. He knows the possible dangers but finally feels anxious for her and now has equal and mutual feelings of want.
As you can see the roles have changed Jeff is now the caring mother figure, and it is almost as if when she entered Thorwald’s apartment their relationship was reborn. Another common theme throughout these scenes of male gaze is the presence of emasculation or lack of masculinity felt by Jeff and his constant pursuit to prove his worth. In one of the movie’s first scenes Jeff, confined to his wheelchair, is on the phone with his boss complaining about his injury and the fact that others are taking care of his usual tasks.
Instantly we feel for Jeff because he clearly has the desire to get back in the field however he just physically cannot. This is a reoccurring theme and is constantly hindering his male gaze from the transformation it will eventually go through. Gender comes into play when dealing with Jeff’s feelings of emasculation. The relationship between him and Lisa shows us that Jeff believes that submitting to marriage is self-inflicted emasculation, as seen in the first quote above. He feels threatened by the ideal American life, claiming marriage is drastic and doesn’t necessarily believe in its potential.
Gender is also seen in Jeff’s greatest effort to prove his masculinity; solving Mrs. Thorwald’s murder or disappearance. Lieutenant Tom Doyle, an old friend of Jeff’s, offers to look into this for him as a gesture of kindness. However Lt. Doyle finds nothing relevant and instead gives Jeff an easy and quick for solution for why it didn’t happen. This frustrates Jeff because it makes him second guess himself which provokes further emasculation. Also to add salt to the wound Lt. Doyle makes a reference to the three years they spent on tour together back during the war, presumably World War 2.
All Jeff can do is look at his current state and feel terrible about his new self and masculinity. Although now that we realize Jeff served in the war effort it only sheds more light on his recent feelings of emasculation. I believe this feeling was probably normal for any man returning from war to his household and regular job. It cannot be an easy transition to go from the brutality of war to the quiet everyday routine we are blessed with in America. All of these factors keep stacking up against Jeff making it more difficult for him to overcome this masculinity crisis.
However Jeff’s will proves strong and he does apprehend Mr. Thorwald verifying he can still get the job done regardless of his physical state. As the film wraps up you see that this was clearly more than just Jeff solving the crime but also a chance for him to put some self-reassurance back in his masculinity. He also saved another characters life unexpectedly while pursuing Thorwald, which reiterates the fact that he is a man of good judgment. Furthermore, he is able to find balance in his life and masculinity, rather than feeling too feminine or over macho.