Jeff is bored. Bored, bored, bored, bored beyond all possible limits of boredom. That's what leads him to his creepy voyeurism to begin with. But he's not the only one who's dissatisfied. Lisa doesn't like the way he blows her off; she wishes he'd take her along on his assignments. Even Thorwald is dissatisfied—fed up with his marriage and willing to kill his wife to run off with another woman. These are the three most important characters in Rear Window, all driven by discontent and eventually risking life and limb—quite literally—in order to be happier.
Everyone's dissatisfaction here is reflective of life in the 1950s: a stifling conformity that none of them can stand.
Jeff's dissatisfaction (a man of action being stuck in a chair) is the complete opposite of Thorwald's (a man stuck in his life eager to try some action).
No one believes Jeff when he first suspects that Thorwald murdered his wife. He has to fight through that and painstakingly assemble the evidence that Thorwald is a killer. Lisa, for her part, desperately loves Jeff and goes to great lengths to prove it. In both cases, these two demonstrate extraordinary perseverance in order to reach their goals.
Perseverance makes for good drama, and in the case of Rear Window, it reminds us that it takes more than the ability to throw a punch for the hero (or heroine) to get what they want. That's doubly important because Jeff can't really do more than watch. If he wants to see this through, he's going to have to stick with it despite his personal obstacles. As we learn in the first scene, he'll do anything to get the picture.
Perseverance in this film is ultimately seen as a good and beneficial quality.
Hitchcock is suggesting that there's something unhealthy about Jeff's persistence—something bordering on obsession.
There's something unwholesome about obsessively spying on your neighbors from the rear window, even if it does lead to a killer's capture. Jeff gets a voyeuristic thrill out of secretly intruding into people's privacy, and the film raises (but doesn't answer) the question of whether or not that's crossing a moral line.
It's not the only morally dubious thing Jeff does: he takes the law into his own hands, writes fake notes to Thorwald, and gets other people involved in his questionable caper. Is he justified in doing it? After all, it leads to Thorwald's capture, so don't those little moral questions become irrelevant? Do the ends justify the means? Rear Window never answers those questions. Hitchcock didn't like making moral judgments. Lots of Hitchcock protagonists find themselves operating in a moral gray zone; that's what makes them interesting.
Jeff is on a slippery ethical slope with his spying, and he knows it.
By giving Thorwald a motivation for killing his wife, i.e., he's desperately unhappy, Hitchcock presents a moral gray area.
The apartments around the courtyard in Rear Window represent a community. The funny thing is, they're a pretty detached and self-absorbed community. They live their lives quite separate from each other, even though they're joined by a common courtyard, and as we learn in one tearful accusation, they don't seem to be particularly caring.
At the same time, we do see evidence of neighborly feeling here and there. Miss Torso looks devastated at the death of the dog, for example, and Miss Lonelyhearts tells the discouraged songwriter that his music saved her life. Jeff, with his globetrotting job, probably hasn't been very involved with his neighbors; he only knows them by his nicknames for them. If he knew them, we doubt he'd be spying on them. That's the kind of thing that requires anonymity.
The movie raises the question of what's more appropriate: minding one's own business, or giving a darn about what's happening in your neighborhood.
There is no real community here, just a bunch of people who live in the same neighborhood.
Hitchcock gives us some hope of community. Even if it's because of the death of the dog and the murder of Thorwald's wife, people will now pay a little more attention to each other.
In Rear Window, Jeff is used to going all over the world, picking up stakes whenever there's a new assignment, and moving at the speed of his lens shutter. Now, suddenly he's stuck in his apartment, unable to go anywhere. He finds ways to move and explore, creepy and off-putting though they may be, and eventually finds his way out of his confinement.
There's a strange parallel there to Thorwald, who's also trapped by his circumstances.
After Jeff's actual immobility, this film seems to portray marriage as the next worst thing. Jeff sees marriage as the ultimate ball and chain. He's afraid that his relationship with Lisa would rob him of his freedom to pursue his career and he'd be stuck in a boring, ordinary life dominated by his wife. That's another parallel to Thorwald, who resorts to murder to get rid of his nagging wife. We're picking up a slightly 1950s, misogynist idea about marriage here—even the newlywed husband is portrayed as being "henpecked," as they used to call it.
The audience is trapped right along with Jeff; our vision is limited to the view from his apartment. This allows us to engage with the character because we can feel his frustration. But Lisa? We'd marry her in a second.
Jeff's career allows a degree of freedom that most people can't even imagine.
Jeff's career only gives him the illusion of freedom because it's very limiting in other ways, like preventing the formation of lasting relationships.
Rear Window is essentially a battle of wits, with Jeff trying to uncover the truth about a murderer and said murderer doing everything in his power to keep from getting caught. From a purely plot perspective, Rear Window is a kind of chess game: Thorwald takes extra-special steps to avert suspicion (like planting a phony postcard from his dead wife), while Jeff finds places where Thorwald slips up. Jeff thinks of ways to lure in Thorwald and ramp up his anxiety that someone is on to him. It's up to Lisa, though, to put all of those clever plans into action; Jeff is stuck in his chair. Lisa is also pretty clever in knowing that joining Jeff in his sleuthing might show him that she's as adventurous as he is.
Jeff is not as smart as he thinks he is because he can't foresee how his little schemes put those around him in danger.
The film's last scene suggests that Lisa has really been the more clever schemer.