Study Guide

Rear Window The Neighbors ()

The Neighbors ()

We could describe each and every one of Jeff's neighbors individually, but in fact, they don't have much character to speak of. Most of them can be summed up in a single sentence, and since we don't see or hear them except from the distant vantage point of Jeff's apartment, we don't get many details. From left to right on your movie screen, here they are:

  • The Newlyweds: An amorous couple who have just moved into their new apartment and can't keep their hands off of each other. They spend most of the film with the shades closed, so we're pretty sure they're keeping themselves occupied. By the end of the film, the bloom is off the rose.
  • The Sculptor: An older woman with a hearing aid who spends her time in her yard making abstract art.
  • Miss Torso: A tall, voluptuous woman who apparently likes dancing, exercising in skimpy clothes, and fending off the advances of men.
  • Miss Lonelyhearts: A middle-age woman who lives a painfully solitary life below Thorwald's apartment.
  • The Dog Lovers: A couple who lives above Thorwald and sleeps out on the fire escape to get relief from the New York heat. They have a little dog that Thorwald murders because he's been digging in the flowerbed where some of Mrs. Thorwald's body parts are buried.
  • The Songwriter: A younger man living in a studio who composes songs. He's reasonably popular, but like a lot of artists, he struggles with his muse. His piano playing provides much of the soundtrack.

That's basically all we've got, and while these folks develop some rudimentary character arcs (Miss Torso's geeky boyfriend comes home from the Army, the songwriter finishes his song and strikes up a friendship with Miss Lonelyhearts, etc.), they're almost completely uninvolved in the plot.

The neighbors exist in part to mask Thorwald's behavior, making it harder to determine whether he's committing murder or not. Jeff watches all of them, after all—reveling in their little dramas, spying on their private movements, and generally intruding upon their privacy. Thorwald and his wife seem no different. Only over time does Thorwald separate from the pack and become the sole focus of Jeff's extracurricular activity. The neighbors emphasize how dark events can take place in the midst of ordinary life—a favorite theme of Hitchcock's. As they go about their little stories, something horrible is happening right under their noses.

Their other job is to quietly point out that Jeff may not be doing a good thing by peeping on these people. He is violating their privacy, and none of them are doing anything actively awful. Jeff can intervene for their benefit, as he does when Miss Lonelyhearts swallows a bottle of pills, but otherwise, he treats them as ways of alleviating his boredom—less as people than as objects for his amusement. It's a small lesson, but an important one.

Because we're watching their little dramas, too, we become as complicit as Jeff in the way he treats them.

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