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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Rear Window, considered a classic Alfred Hitchcock mystery, reflects the social and ethical values of the 1950s when it was made. Characters drink and smoke frequently; the men often leer at pretty women; and the film is set in an all-white urban neighborhood. The theme of the film, however, has currency. It's about voyeurism -- spying on unaware neighbors, jumping to conclusions about those neighbors, and acting impulsively. One suspenseful scene finds the wheelchair-bound hero in physical jeopardy from an attacker who may be a murderer who dismembered his wife. A dog is found dead with its neck broken.
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What's the story?
In REAR WINDOW, Jeff (James Stewart), a photojournalist, is confined to a wheelchair after breaking his leg shooting a car race. Now he recuperates in his Greenwich Village flat, getting occasional visits from his gorgeous model-girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly) and putting up with a visiting nurse. Bored by immobility and equipped with an arsenal of binoculars and telephoto SLR lenses within reach, Jeff amuses himself by spying on his neighbors across the courtyard, from his rear window. Jeff finds that each tenant, some lonely, some oversexed, embodies a different pathology of male-female relationships. At first it's funny to Jeff, seeing a newlywed woman wearing down her husband with frequent lovemaking and a solitary bachelorette going dateless night after night. But then there's a burly guy named Lars (Perry Mason's Raymond Burr), unhappily married to a nag. Jeff becomes convinced that Lars has just snapped and murdered his wife, then possibly dismembered her body in packing cases. But is Jeff correct? And how can he convince someone? And what if the menacing Lars discovers he's been watched?
Is it any good?
The tension gets so exquisite in this film that viewers unaware of its reputation might almost miss the cinematic gimmick that made it quite an achievement: it never leaves Jeff's room. Not once. Whole college courses have centered around Rear Window, Alfred Hitchcock's fiendish, compact, and sometimes lighthearted film.The POV outside Jeff's rear window into the other windows is like looking into an array of TV screens (or comic-strip panels), the little New York stories unfolding in each one, often simultaneously (and, yes, that's Ross Bagdassarian, creator of the cartoon characters Alvin & the Chipmunks, as a songwriter).
Throughout his career James Stewart was an a boyishly all-American good guy, though there were a few exceptions, and Hitchcock especially likes to tap into an inner darkness using the wholesome actor. Though he's partially a victim of his disability, Jeff does seem to enjoy being what could be called a "peeping Tom," and there's a question of whether his new pastime of voyeurism is a healthy one or not -- never mind the crime-solving fringe benefits -- and what's the deal with him enjoying looking at strangers, but avoiding intimacy with the beautiful, accommodating Lisa? If wanting to watch makes Jeff some sort of pervert, what does that make us, the audience? We're watching him -- watching them!
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Rear Window shows the alienation of urban life, about people living on top of one another in high-rises, yet remaining strangers.
Jeff and his motivations are a big part of this movie's intrigue. As a photographer, he has to compose images for a living. When his broken leg means he can't do his job, can he be excused for continuing to habitually watch ordinary people?
What would be different if this movie was made today?
How do TV, Web sites, video blogs, and especially reality TV add to the movie's theme about the ethics of scrutinizing real people for entertainment?
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