Kehrblog: Jimmy Stewart as God

To bluntly restate a notion I’ve tried to develop more extensively elsewhere (i.e., “When Movies Mattered,” still available at an Amazon near you), Stewart usually represents a kind of distanced, detached, self-appointed “authority” in Hitchcock’s films, the man who sits in judgment from on high — the Catholic deity of Hitchcock’s youth, intolerant of human weakness, demanding, whimsical and arbitrary in his law-making and moral dictates, a God who has, most perversely, endowed humans with sexuality while demanding a strict regulation of sexual relations, establishing standards that are impossible to live up to but severely punishing those who do not. “Rear Window” places Stewart in exactly this position, spatially and morally, in regard to the pitifully (yet quite normally) flawed human beings he observes across the courtyard and manipulates for his own entertainment. For most of the film, Hitchcock adheres to his point of view — which, of course, is also that of the author before his work and the audience before the screen — building to that astonishing, excruciating moment when the Raymond Burr character breaks through the screen and into Stewart’s apartment, where he asks, with a combination of fear and supplication, of anger and vulnerability that Burr brings off brilliantly, “What do you want from me?” Stewart, of course, has no answer; the question alone is enough to (temporarily, at least) shake him from his perch. Hitchcock brings all of his great courage and honesty as an artist to bear in making the Burr character an actual killer (instead of a pure victim of circumstance, as in the compromised “The Wrong Man”) and still finding sympathy for him, as he does for Norman Bates, Alexander Sebastian, Marion Crane, Guy Haines and the countless other “criminals” who inhabit his work — including the entire population of Bodega Bay, which is to say, the world.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s