The Lives of Others

Rear Window
The set-up is simple and elegant: L. B. Jeffries, a globetrotting photographer (Stewart), laid up in his tiny apartment for several weeks with a broken leg relieves his boredom and restlessness by watching his neighbors out his only window. Soon he begins to suspect that one of them (Burr) may be harboring a sinister secret and he recruits his girlfriend Lisa (Kelly) and his nurse Stella (Ritter) to investigate.

The location is limited but rich: an apartment building full of colorful characters. There’s the party girl, the lonely spinster, the struggling composer, the newlyweds, the busybody, the eccentric couple and their yappy dog. Jeffries keeps tabs on them all, piecing their stories together for his own amusement and guessing to fill in the gaps. Stella disapproves of Jeffries penchance for invading the privacy of others, while Lisa is just annoyed that he’s not paying more attention to her.

The camera never leaves Jeffries’ apartment, using this limitation to ratchet up the suspense (there’s only so much the audience can see or hear) while showcasing Hitchcock’s usual genius with subtly effective camerawork. Between drifting lazily among the distant windows of people busily going about their business to zooming tensely in on the face of a killer as he locks eyes with you from afar, the view is captivating. But Rear Window is, in the end, less about what is going on outside the window and more about the people watching from inside.

The movie has a lot to say, not only about voyeurism and what it implies about the decency of the voyeur, but also about how people behave when they think no one is watching them. Sure, the guy across the way may have murdered his wife, but larger questions take center-stage for most of the film: Should I be watching with a high-powered lens to make sure he doesn’t? Which is the more freakish, a freak show or the person who enjoys watching it? In asking these questions of its main characters, Rear Window slyly aims the same queries at its audience, staring with safe anonymity (and presumably enjoyment) from the darkness of a theater or the comfort of a sofa at home.

In a time when privacy is increasingly harder to come by and more and more people seem willing to do just about anything in front of a camera, the questions raised here may seem a bit anachronistic. Perhaps, though, that makes them far worthier of serious consideration. Meanwhile, Rear Window remains a top-notch classic and one of Hitchcock’s greatest films.

The set-up is clunky and contrived: Kale (LaBeouf) is behind the wheel when a serious accident takes the life of his father. He’s a good kid, but troubled, and this eventually leads him to punch out his Spanish teacher just before summer vacation. The judge sentences him to three months house arrest. If the transmitter on his ankle gets farther than 100 feet from the house, the police will show up in seconds to cart him off to jail.

Before long his mother (Moss) has cancelled his X-Box Live and iTunes accounts and boredom drives him to spy on the neighbors with all of the technology at his disposal. There’s the creepy guy who mows his lawn twice a day (Morse), the hot girl that just moved in (Roemer) and that’s about it. The latter would seem to provide a far more interesting spectacle for our high-school hero, but once the girl next door comes over to join the fun (and its only a matter of time), there’s just one person left to spy on.

Suspicion mounts. Kale gets to first base. The young people use their new-fangled hi-tech gadgetry to gather evidence. With the standard number of setbacks and sidetracks, its a paint-by-numbers journey to the outrageously insulting climax. There isn’t an original minute in the last fifteen. Disturbia wants so badly to be the mother of all genre cliche’s that it drags in far more material than it can convincingly handle, sloppily stitching incongruous elements together. It’s like the filmmakers think they can show you something you’ve never seen before simply by showing you a larger amount of what you have already seen.

Disturbia is Landon’s first major screenplay, and the possessive is used loosely in this case. Unfortunately for everyone involved with this project, screenwriting talent is not as easily plagiarized as movie ideas are. In any case, the themes of Rear Window are potentially more relevant now than they have ever been before, but Disturbia is far more interested in giving every voyeur in the audience something to gape at than it is in exploring the darker side of natural curiosity.

  • Co-reviewed with Randy

~ by Jared on April 15, 2007.

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