A Man Escaped

“There is nothing very interesting about most of the exits through a window in Hitchcock’s films; someone is usually escaping.” Thus begins the chapter “Entry Through a Window,” in Michael Walker’s Hitchcock’s Motifs (2005). Well, Walker’s more interested in ingress, and the sexual symbolism it carries, but isn’t he forgetting one of the most famous defenestrations on film, the climax to RW?

In fact, Jeff’s struggle with Thorwald, and the resulting fall, is exceedingly interesting. Walker is right about one thing, though: Jeff’s passage through the window is an escape. An escape from Thorwald, an escape—as it turns out—from death: it’s also an escape from the confines of the apartment where Jeff has been in something like a suspended state of existence. And given that the whole film is about looking out the window for which the movie is named, when Jeff finally is sent through it physically, might the act not be freighted with a certain, oh, I don’t know, symbolic value?

Here it may be worth pausing to consider what it is Jeff escapes to. The courtyard is an interesting space in RW, a neutral zone that exists between the viewer and the apartments of those being viewed. A good deal of the film proceeds by ignoring it (Jeff’s telephoto lens and binoculars, in fact, are the optical instruments that allow the intervening space to be temporarily collapsed). The courtyard has its function, though. It is here that the Sculptress (Miss Hearing Aid as she’s called in the trailer) interacts with Thorwald; it is here that Thorwald—ahem—interacts with the little dog. And it is here that the film’s only public declaration is heard. It is the place in fact where the characters can leave their individual “screen lives” behind and, you know, mingle. It’s the public square, it’s real life, or what passes for real life in this exceedingly arch film.

Jeff, then, in a moment of crisis, must leave his cocoon-like existence behind and re-enter quotidian reality. And with re-entry comes, hopefully, rotation (let the readers of Walker Percy understand). At any rate, once through the window Jeff is undoubtedly ready to start living again . . . once his two broken legs heal.


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