The dismembered spectator

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The dismembered spectator the de(con)struction of mastery, meaning, and interpretation in Hitchcock's films
Pruitt, John A
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150 leaves : ; 28 cm


Subjects / Keywords:
Detective and mystery films -- History and criticism -- United States ( lcsh )
Detective and mystery films ( fast )
United States ( fast )
Criticism, interpretation, etc. ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )
Criticism, interpretation, etc ( fast )


Includes bibliographical references (leaves 136-150).
Statement of Responsibility:
by John A. Pruitt, Jr.

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Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
|Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
40337037 ( OCLC )
LD1190.L48 1998m .P78 ( lcc )

Full Text
John A. Pruitt, Jr.
B.A., Florida State University, 1992
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
Communication and Theatre

1998 by John A. Pruitt, Jr.
All rights reserved.

This thesis for the Master of Arts
degree by
John A. Pruitt, Jr.
has been approved
William Michael Monsour

Pruitt, Jr. John A. (M.A., Communication and Theatre)
The Dismembered Spectator: The De(con)struction of Mastery, Meaning, and
Interpretation in Hitchcocks Films
Thesis directed by Associate Professor William Michael Monsour
Through a deconstructive reading of the spectating experience of Hitchcocks
films, I will seek to discover how interpretive mastery over Hitchcocks films occurs
through progressive degrees and ultimately fragments the spectating/communicating
experience. Also, by analyzing cinematic theories of auteurism, film language, and
subject positioning, I will seek to discover how Hitchcocks films rupture narrative
space, which decenters the spectating experience.
The following reading of The Lodger, a Story of the London Fog, Rear
Window, Psycho, and Rope will examine criticism that emphasizes spectatorial
approaches to Hitchcocks films and the lack of textual mastery that the spectator
draws from those films. I will also examine the instability of meaning, based on
extracinematic spectator manipulation and narrative progression, which disengages
fragmented cinematic closure. The theorist must consider the narrative in relation to
the spectator, how the spectator identifies with Hitchcocks characters, and how the

the spectator fails to gain more than a modest measure of mastery over the films.
By transgressing the conventions of classical Hollywood cinema, Hitchcock
incorporates cinematic techniques to create a mise-en-scene that evokes an emotion
that implicates the spectator in the diegesis. Through innovative editing, the director
builds tension, suspense, and anxiety and skillfully develops narrative tools that draw
the spectator into the text. By emphasizing the viewing experience, Hitchcock
transforms the spectator into a subject who unconsciously and falsely affirms
complete knowledge beyond that of the films characters.
The spectators illusory mastery over the film exemplifies a power that results
in fragmentation, a deconstructive element of the spectating experience. However,
there is a distinctive relationship between the illusion of control, the nagging
suspicion that we are not, and the pleasure/pain of the text. Indeed, finding authentic
freedom to interpret Hitchcocks films increases only by degree and becomes a
pleasurable experience for the critic who intellectually searches for meaning.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
its publication.
William Michael Monsour

To Susan Linville, Karen Cunningham, Bruce Boehrer, and Laura J. Rosenthal for
suiting me up for the theory wars.

" Synopsis 43
Analysis 46
Synopsis 60
Analysis 63
Synopsis 88
Analysis 90
Synopsis 108
Analysis 109

Alfred Hitchcocks films uphold a glaring reputation in contemporary popular
culture. But when we think of the Master of Suspense, do we think of the film maker
or the films, or both? Many theorists congratulate the director on his superb ability to
frighten an audience. For instance, Greg Garrett argues that Hitchcocks films leave
a disconcerting emotion in the spectator because they force us to face and identify
with our inexplicably strange and unsavory behavior. Hitchcock himself admits to
Frangois Truffaut regarding the premature murder of Marion in Psycho that he was
playing the audience like an organ. Finally, William Rothman grants supremacy to
the directors cinematic mastery because of Hitchcocks strict attention to the camera,
the spectator, and direction.1 By placing these arguments together, the theorist can
deduce that Hitchcock held auteuristic authority not only over the direction of his
films but also over the subject positions of the filmss spectators.
Unfortunately, if we accept this argument, the spectator becomes a passive
pawn manipulated by the director. Indeed, Hitchcocks creative maneuvers
impressively induce spectatorial struggles over suspense, mystery, and murder, but
the auteur never fully contains the meaning of his or her text. What we find actually
amounts to a ruptured text in which several levels of signification or language

continuously communicate. Whereas the director approaches textual creation through
intention and purpose, theorists must analyze discursive means apart from a closed
New Critical reading to grasp as much of the texts richness as possible, for a
common casualty of criticism is the mistaken adherence to the celebrated univocity of
the text and the auteurs mastery over text and spectator. Through a deconstructive
reading of the spectating experience of Hitchcocks films, I will seek to discover how
interpretive mastery over Hitchcocks films occurs through progressive degrees and
ultimately fragments the spectating/communicating experience. Also, by analyzing
cinematic theories of auteurism, film language, and subject positioning, I will seek to
discover how Hitchcocks films rupture narrative space, which decenters narrative
order and the spectating experience. Because there is a distinctive relationship
between the illusion that we are in control of the film, the nagging suspicion that we
are not, and the pleasure/pain of the text, finding authentic freedom to interpret
Hitchcocks films painfully increases only by degree but becomes a pleasurable
experience for the critic who intellectually searches for meaning.
The following reading of The Lodger, a Story of the London Fog (1926), Rear
Window (1954), Psycho (1960), and Rope (1948) will examine critical studies that
emphasize spectatorial approaches to Hitchcocks films and the lack of textual
mastery that the spectator draws from those films. My reading will also examine the
instability of meaning, based on spectator manipulation and narrative progression,

which disengages fragmented cinematic closure. Because Hitchcocks films drive the
audience to identify with the characters, the theorist must consider the narrative' in
relation to the spectator, how the spectator identifies with Hitchcocks characters, and
how the spectator still fails to gain more than a modest measure of mastery over the
film. I will offer as an introduction an overview of early and contemporary film
theory that examines discursive techniques, and methodology that analyzes the
significance of the spectating experience.
The first chapter turns to The Lodger, a Story of the London Fog and
introduces the cinematic gaze, the establishment of spectatorial identity, and the
problems of mastering the text. As a silent film, The Lodger draws attention
primarily to the visual discourse of narration, which semiotically isolates the
construction of meaning specifically within mise-en-scene or the visual elements of
film language: Through editing inspired by German Expressionism, Hitchcock
delivers a tale that positions and repositions the spectator as subject and object of the
gaze, as murderer and victim, in a tightly structured narrative. Although the illusion
of a pleasurable closure exists, the film leaves the satisfaction of spectatorial desires
and fantasies measurably wanting. Again, interpretation grants only a modest
measure of textual mastery, for a painful, residual degree of extra-cinematic
manipulation withholds a final, contained reading of the film.

The second chapter turns to Rear Window and illustrates how the film
dismembers, fragments, and segments both the protagonist and the spectator. By
addressing the protagonists relationship with the camera, the spectator, and the
spectating experience, the film creates the illusion of textual mastery through the
incorporation of fantasies and the innovative editing techniques of the gaze of the
wandering camera. Because the film continuously reflects on itself as a film, we are
shown how the fragments of film language attract each other. However, because of
the absence of direct, significant diegetic material, the film disguises the spectators
lack of ability to master and interpret the film through strong, innovative editing.
The third chapter turns to Psycho and analyzes spectatorial mastery only
within the eyes of the dead, which yields more of a challenge to deconstructing the
spectator than do traditional subject positions. The film challenges the spectators
sense of textual mastery by fragmenting the gaze, by extending mastery only to the
omniscience of an absent character whose strength invokes a heavy air and a distorted
mise-en-scene. By incorporating editing similar to that in Rear Window but much
more quick and dangerous, the film also positions the spectator in relation to the
accusatory gaze of the apparatus by covertly refusing to include diegetic material that
will grant textual mastery.
The fourth chapter summarizes the theory behind the three previous films, for
the film provides editing techniques that contribute to building tension, suspense, and

anxiety through the progression of visual sequences and their impending
psychological impact on the spectator. Like the other films under examination, Rope
manipulates the spectator through the deconstruction of diegetic film space by
transgressing the limits of narrative unity. Likewise, the film marginalizes the
essence of meaning, for verbal and film language exploit meaning by tracing its
deterioration. On a higher level, my analysis discusses the significance of imaginary
space, which signifies an even higher level of dismemberment, and the inability of
language to create or disguise meaning.
Hitchcock proves a worthy target of study because of the attention he draws to
the cinematic spectator. By transgressing the conventions of classical Hollywood
cinema, the director incorporates cinematic techniques to create a mise-en-scene that
evokes an emotion implicating the spectator in the diegesis. Hitchcocks technique,
which build spectatorial tension, suspense, and anxiety, encompasses both long takes
and scenes with rapid cutting, thereby exploiting both Bazinian realism and
Eisensteinian montage, and builds the visual sequences of the film to marginalize and
deconstruct narrative space and unity.
In several films, Hitchcock skillfully develops original narrative tools that
draw the spectator into the film. By conspicuously acknowledging the spectating
experience through the direct gaze at the camera and enigmatic point of view shots,
Hitchcocks films transform the spectator into a subject who claims knowledge

beyond that of the films characters through incomplete identification. For example,
R. Barton Palmer argues that the ease with which the Hitchcockian narrative
deconstructs and displays its own premises to view [becomes] an index of the
directors intention, his compulsion to undermine the working of narrative/
representational structures (4). The spectators grasp at mastering the film is the
product of a phenomenon that creates narrative fragmentation, a deconstructive
element of the spectating experience.
George Toles argues that the spectators refusal to fall prey to the directors
authority will strengthen the certainty that interpretive privilege is possible.2 In other
words, finding authentic interpretive freedom in Hitchcocks films is attempted by
critically approaching the text and striving to untangle the deconstructive elements of
the narrative system. Indeed, unlike the director, who remains once removed from
his films through cinematic and narrative manipulation and foresight, the spectator
does not control the placement or form of images on the screen. As a result, the
spectator becomes more mentally and emotionally involved with the film through the
suspense of anticipation. Still, it is possible to gain only an approximation of
meaning from Hitchcocks films beyond uncertain insight into auteuristic intentions.3
Although the director with the apparatus controls the spectators visual stimulation
and degrees of suspense and anticipation, the theorist (indeed a spectator as well)

critically razes the sturdy columns that support the text and questions the directors
approach to narrative cinema.
The following reading also addresses the cinematic gaze associated with
murder and suspense.4 Indeed, Hitchcock is famous for depicting murder, but its
association with the spectatorial gaze requires attention. Pascal Bonitzer suggests
that, through the post-burlesque cinematic revolution brought about by Kouleshov
and Griffith, editing became artistic and characters became contemplative and
statuesque. Consequently, the obscene proximity of the gaze began to signify murder
and violence. Accordingly, film changed from the innocent recordings of common
life to a voyeuristic fascination in the spectator who questioned not only the
characters, but also the directors motivation: the gaze creates the fiction.
On a connotative level, the realistic imagery does not change. Instead, the
films introduce what Bonitzer identifies as the stain, the object that distracts the gaze
and disrupts the natural order of the diegesis. The characters need not be aware of
the stain to reinforce its significance because the spectators mere knowledge of the
stain is sufficient to maintain the suspense, to challenge the calm reality, to rupture
the denotated meaning of common images by emphasizing the gaze and creating the
fiction. The more diegetic knowledge the spectator possesses, the more disturbing
the outcome when one of its elements begins to rebel. The question we must explore
further is how the spectator interacts with the film to attempt to draw meaning, for as

Bonitzer argues, the spectator immediately questions the directors intentions and
wades through the suspense while desperately seeking meaning.5
In recent years, the concept of film spectatorship has received a great deal of
attention within the practices of film history, theory, and criticism. Even so, there
remains theoretical explication and clarification that we must exercise within this
especially controversial area of film studies. Notable emphasis falls onto the
audience in the attempt to define and differentiate between the viewer, the subject,
and the spectator. We can argue that the biological individual, breathing and carbon-
based, is the film viewer, positioned outside of the realm of film theory. The film
viewer, then, functions as the representative of the population of viewers by drawing
meaning from divergent culturally-defined influences, or, as David Sholle and the
school of cultural studies argue, people defined in differences (82). The cinematic
subject, however, acts as a discursive means by which the analyst explains the theory.
The subject is a category defined by its association to other subjects and to objects,
constructed through representational systems such as cinema, or, as Martha Rosier
broadly notes, in relation not only to that art system, but also to the society to which
the art belongs.6 In psychoanalytic terms, the viewer becomes a subject through
gratification and repression of needs through the process of representation. The film
spectator is conceived as the viewer and the subject psychically collapse into each
other through ideology, which incorporates the historical with the theoretical.7

But defining the spectator becomes as intricate a task as defining
spectators hip. For example, Judith Mayne considers spectatorship a psychically,
culturally, and symbolically significant occurrence: it prevails as an internal activity
brought about by external ideological influences.8 Maynes definition grants the
appropriate signifying power to ideology and its impact on spectatorship, for the
spectator attempts to interpret meaning from a text based on what is familiar. The
familiar is in turn based on reality and ideology, which Terry Eagleton defines as a
kind of contemporary mythology, a realm which has purged itself of ambiguity and
alternative possibility (135). Furthermore, like a film, ideology becomes a text open
to interpretation and criticism. Although the subject becomes the decentered product
of contradicting social determinants through the discursive production, reproduction,
and subversion of institutions that ideologically affect human behavior, the influence
of these determinants is primarily unconscious. The spectating experience, then,
becomes not only an interesting psychological challenge, but also a pleasurable
emotional experience based on much that is familiar.9
Because of the enjoyable emotional response to film viewing, the spectator
maintains a false sense of interpretive mastery. As deconstruction suggests, a text is a
heuristic fiction, for it is a heterogeneous signifying field constructed of an eternity of
earlier texts constituted in and through language and the problematics invested
throughout language. Because of the infinite textual structure of sign system upon

system, analysis is invariably incomplete and discursively inflected, traversed like the
text it questions. The meaning that the spectator believes to infer, because
interpretation is an endless process of division or suspension reproduced with various
results depending on context, continually implodes and leaves behind the explicit
acknowledgment of the specificities of a particular reading. As Roland Barthes
suggests, even the texts creator cannot dictate its absolute meaning. The objective
consists of rebuilding the theoretical text from its fallen state rather than simply
acknowledging its entangled narrative system based on the instability of the signified
and signifier.10
We must now carry the concept of spectatorship and the disparities it conceals
into the creation and application of film theory, whose generation of theory is a
continuous and infinite process embedded in reality.11 It is imperative to remember
that familiarity correlates with the interpretation of reality. Theory itself, however,
falls outside of the area of common knowledge and into the area of specialized
epistemology. As I have suggested, to interpret and therefore master film, the analyst
may read the text against conventional or ideologically-based theory to reveal more
implicit meanings at work internally. David Bordwell argues that interpretation
ascribes abstract and nonliteral meanings to the film and its world [by] going beyond
the denoted world and any denoted message to posit implicit or symptomatic
meanings at work in the text (Revisited 95). Deconstructionist theory also posits

that the language and methods that chip away the structures that bind the text produce
a stronger reading because those structures are always transitional. The following
thesis, although incorporating deconstructionist theory to expose the temporality of
denoted meaning, not only draws from conventional theoretical writing to produce
clarity. I also attempt to challenge theory, or, as Teresa de Lauretis argues, to
displace oneself within [theory]~to refuse the question as formulated, or to answer
deviously (though in its words), even to quote (but against the grain) (7). The
theorist must understand the film as a methodological tool for defining the concept
that it questions. By deconstructing the film, the theorist will find that textual
elements signify a great deal because it scrutinizes the existence of the contained
text.12 Every text consists of a reworking of other texts in an infinite and seething
entanglement of signs; the plurality of the text becomes an open process that requires
criticism and analysis. In fact, Hitchcock reworked existing texts to construct his
own films, a practice that reinforces the question of absolute meaning as
encompassed by the problems of intertextuality.13
Because it is necessary to apply theory to textual elements as well as to
cinematic discourse, we must also acknowledge a sign system within that text.
Semiotic critical theory suggests that individual sign systems, which include
cinematic discourse, are available for various interpretations because they consist of
continuous and entangled webs of signifiers and codes through which the spectator

can attempt to clear a path of meaning.14 Vivian Sobchack, for example, argues that
film makes sense as a living cohesion, as a signifying subject that existentially
comes to matter as a signifying object, for it can be understood in its objective status
as sensible and intelligible.15 Through an approach that advocates a formulation
accommodating perception and expression, Sobchack argues that film is an act of
vision with a subjectivity that views and view that is seen. In this manner, Sobchack
challenges the classical model of spectatorship, that of projected object and viewing
subject, and instead offers a model of more fluid communication.
Because cinema presents and represents images of reality, it becomes a
signifying practice in which the subject is engaged and represented in ideology. In
other words, by promoting differing meanings and values through images that the
spectator can easily recognize, cinematic language induces several varied subject
positions and interpretations. However, because representations of reality are viewed
both with and against the projected image through the entanglement of textual
signifiers, there are no textual boundaries, which leaves interpretation open but also
prohibits absolute meaning.
It is important to understand that cinematic elements do not exist
independently of the viewing activity but rather prompt the performance of mental
processes. Those elements from which the spectator attempts to draw meaning are
changeable and may encourage a new spectator to read an alternative meaning into

the formal structures that define film. For example, because film consists of a series
of photographs, we can note historically, as John Berger argues, that All
photographs are of the past, yet in them an instant of the past is arrested so that,
unlike a lived past, it can never lead to the present [for] [b]etween the moment
recorded and the present moment of looking at the photograph, there is an abyss
(86-87). The spectators interpretive relationship to the film arises out of an
awareness of the abyss, which suggests the inaccessible absence of defined textual
boundaries. The text itself remains fragmented, an open-ended structure begging
Craig Owens describes the spectators recollection and interpretation of the
past as an allegorical impulse. The structure of allegory is conceived as a restoration
of an original meaning, which exists temporally and eternally prior to the sign itself.
To address film and photography specifically, we can argue that the spectator
becomes convinced of the remoteness of that past yet wishes to recover it for the
present. Although it is possible to read texts logically and structurally through a New
Critical approach, Owens contends that in some cases allegory takes place within
works of art [and] describes their structure. Recovery yields to appropriation as the
allegorist confiscates images of the past and poses as their interpreter in the present

Owenss provocative thesis has been enabled by the work of earlier
deconstructionist critics. As indicated, deconstruction denies that the theorist will
interpret absolute meaning from a text because meaning is never the direct end result
of the play of textual signifiers. Language, for example, constantly fluctuates: a sign
obtains meaning through its connection to other signs, which in turn obtain meaning
through their connection to other signs. Temporally, because signs carry multiple
connotations, meaning denies stability or exhaustibility. Eagleton defines the
fluctuation of meaning as constant flickering of presence and absence together
(128). Because meaning fluctuates from the interplay of signifiers, the spectator
remains fragmented and must regain composure during the interpretive process.
Furthermore, Jacques Derrida identifies the location of the deconstructionist
critic, who works from the inside, inhabiting the structures of constituting ones
theory. We must attempt to reassemble the supports of an unstable edifice, through
which we evoke a reading that elucidates a signifying structure constitutive of a text,
for the reading must aim at discerning the relationship between auteuristic intention
and lack of intention within the texts patterns of language. The rigor of
deconstruction lies in its ability to make manifest this textual structure. However, as
Derrida explains, criticism explains nothing, and absolute meaning never surfaces.16
As I will discuss through a reading of cinematic discourse, the spectator
remains far removed from the depth of meaning ingrained in the film. Hitchcocks

films move the spectator beyond the impossibility of textual mastery by constructing
films that lack diegetic material and blatantly offer a definitive meaning. Indeed, all
narratives unfold through a loss or absence, for no text can completely contain a
narrated series of events. Narrative ordering necessarily involves reduction and
ellipsis on the represented level, which induces both anxiety and agitation, the pain of
interpretation. Failing to entirely repossess the loss or absence becomes distressing.
While watching one of Hitchcocks film, not only will the spectator fail to emerge
from the entanglement of signifiers in the attempt to master the film, but the absence
of diegetic material must itself gain theoretical significance to call attention to the
relationship between the film, the director, and the spectator.

Psychoanalysis, the foundation of disbelief in all forms of mastery, dominated
film theory of the 1970s. Psychoanalytic film critics, particularly Christian Metz,
based their theories in the work of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan, founders of
the concepts of cinematic identification and mirror-misrecognition. However, much
contemporary research challenges this monolithic school of thought. For example,
Richard Allen contends that psychoanalysis no longer provides an exemplary analysis
of spectatorship and that the theories of primary cinematic identification and mirror-
misrecognition should be abandoned.1 Although Allen poses alternative readings of
psychoanalytic theory to examine film/spectator relations, he indicates accurately that
psychoanalysis alone cannot convincingly explicate the intricate details of film
spectatorship.2 For example, psychoanalysis is reportedly ahistorical and declines
contextual evidence in favor of timeless psychical structures. Psychoanalysis does
place emphasis on the text, but it does not consequently disregard the context.
For the purpose of putting these developments in context and establishing a
theory of spectator interpretation, the following pages will cover key moments that
have developed in spectator analysis beginning in the 1970s, from the structuralist

and psychoanalytic perspective of Metz, through the feminist/psychoanalytic
perspective of Laura Mulvey, and finally to responses by historical and ideological
scholars such as Robert Corber and Anne Friedberg. My purpose is to seek to
discover how interpretive mastery over Hitchcocks films occurs through progressive
degrees and ultimately fragments the spectating/communicating experience. Also, by
analyzing cinematic theories of auteurism, film language, and subject positioning, I
will seek to discover how Hitchcocks films rupture narrative space, which decenters
the spectating experience. To that end, I will analyze and criticize established
theories of film spectatorship, including psychoanalysis, and build onto theories of
film language and subject-positioning. It is necessary to understand that my thesis
does not dismiss psychoanalytic theory as an unrespectable method of film criticism.
Instead, I advance the argument that we must approach critical accounts of
psychoanalysis cautiously because many of its concepts, as exemplified above, are
constantly under extreme critical debate. Furthermore, it is impossible to isolate the
spectator solely within the theoretical unconscious. Instead, criticism must define the
specific text in relation to other texts and theories to other theories to create an outlet
for understanding and interpreting film and art.
The prominence and authority of psychoanalysis shapes virtually all theories
of the cinema. As an institution, psychoanalytic film theory methodically compares
cinema as a type of exhibition with the social and psychical structure of the spectator.

During the rise of psychoanalytic film theory in the mid-1970s, it was professed that
cinema separated the spectator psychically into an interaction between conscious and
unconscious processes. As a result, the concept of the spectator became ideal or
ahistorical, a product of the apparatus positioned by the film. Although critics from
alternative schools of thought such as cultural studies and feminism challenge the
concept of the ideal spectator as a pure abstraction, its influence on contemporary
film theory remains considerable.
Historically, film theory of the mid-1970s explored the social and psychic
functions of cinema based on the subject in language and society. More specifically,
emphasis shifted from a strict examination of psychological processes based
primarily on voyeurism to the cultural impact of the cinematic apparatus, defined as
the totality of interdependent operations that construct the spectating experience and
its ability to position the spectator as the cinematic subject. Inclusively, the situation
consists of the technology, the site of exhibition, the film, and the spectators
perception as the desiring subject. The concept of spectatorship occurs as technology
intertwines with mental activity. The viewer must allow his or her fantasies to
interact with the film, with the fiction displayed by the apparatus, with the dream-like
structure or archetypal production of the unconscious fantasy. Fantasy provides the
viewer with avenues of possible identifications with characters according to their
different roles and functions. The apparatus consequently activates the subject.

Because desire and fantasy are bound to the images on the screen through the
movement of the film and the illusory movement of its images, the cinema evokes a
regression to a sense of completeness equivalent to that brought about by Lacans
theory of the Mirror Phase of development, which is marked by visual maturity but
near lack of physical mastery.
Lacans work on the stages of development, the backbone of a considerable
amount of film theory, indicates that mastery does not exist until the child develops
language. Lacan conceptualizes a postmodern self: a point of intersection for
unconscious drives, bodily functions, power structures, and constantly shifting
configurations of linguistic signs. Lacan reformulated the writings of Freud and
advocates that the unconscious is structured like a language. Through
psychoanalysis, he decenters both the unconscious and language and questions
traditional empirical analysis, which essentially allows him to deconstruct the mind
and also to approach the social construction of the subject.
Lacan labeled the first stage of human development the Mirror Phase, which
begins the process of building a center of self. During this stage, the infant identifies
with an image outside itself, whether a real mirror image or the image of another
child. The image becomes the concept of the other to the infants self and thereby
establishes separateness and subjectivity. The child initially perceives his or her
completeness as part of the visual image of the mother, an image it receives from

outside as though looking into a mirror. In other words, here the infant begins to
misperceive or misrecognize its image. Likewise, during the Mirror Phase, the child
does not possess complete mastery of its body, e.g., the ability to walk and feed itself.
However, through a more advanced visual maturity and the ability to distinguish self
from other, the child develops a relationship with the image of the mother as separate
from the structure of reality based on physical sensation. The child continues to
identify with the mother, but the perception of existing as an extension of her body
begins to yield to individuality or subjectivity. Because the child attempts to grasp a
sense of subjectivity during the Mirror Phase, his or her fragmented image extends
phantasies of completeness or totality, which will shape and structure mental
development. The child begins to identify with its own mirror image as a separate
entity but lacks a center of identity and a determinate sense of boundaries.
The Mirror Phase links to the process of the Imaginary, during which the
dualism between self and other becomes developed further. Through this stage, the
child begins to gain mastery of its body and still identify with the other but at the cost
of a crucial alienation. The separate units of the body become united to constitute
one body or system, which constitutes the self and identity, but which also causes
anxiety. This formal structure fundamentally depends upon an identification that
takes place in the subject when he assumes an image. Estrangement from the other
corresponds with the ego, constituted by an alienating identification based on an

initial lack of completeness in the body. In other words, the ego, which questions the
difference between self and other, functions to conceal the bodys lack of unity.
Through the third stage, the Symbolic, the child moves from identification
with the mother into post-Oedipal existence through fear of castration and through
acquiring language. The subject, now involved in language or linguistics, takes his or
her place in culture and society and becomes psychologically independent.
Linguistics positions the speaking self into a social realm.3 Lacan, however, argues
that the central characteristic of a linguistic system is not order but discontinuity or
fragmentation, for it is through language that the child learns that a sign presupposes
the absence of the object it signifies. Thus, the Symbolic is set at odds with the
Imaginary, which strives to conceal fragmentation by way of the ego.
As noted, Lacan advocates that the unconscious is structured like a language,
which implies that the unconscious also prevents the subject from mastering his or
her own fragmented or decentered mind. Likewise, Freud argues that we are
hedonistically dominated by a desire for gratification and an aversion to anything that
might frustrate it, which also instigates a false sense of mastery.4 For example, Freud
argues that dreams, which permit communication between the conscious and
unconscious minds, are symbolic wish or desire fulfillments. Because their contents
potentially carry shock value, the unconscious softens or censors the images, which

makes dreams, like films, texts that require decoding, for the text of the unconscious
itself is an elusive, tangled network of meanings and desires.
Film theory progressively began to incorporate Freuds theories of voyeurism
and dreams and Lacans theories behind the stages of development. Rather than
focusing on the films relationship with reality, a topic explored primarily in the
1960s,5 theorists began to pursue a psychoanalytic examination of the cinematic
apparatus and its effects of activating and regulating the insatiable desires of the
spectator. Desire grows from the knowledge of an absence that it must fill.
Language also works through absence, for a sign presupposes the absence of the
object that it signifies, and words have meaning only through exclusion and
difference. As a representational system, language also contributes to subject
formation through the Symbolic. Likewise, cinema, as a representational system,
was reconceptualized from existing as a mere event to existing as a process of subject
formation, a constant constructive and reconstructive process that invokes
unconscious and social practices in the gratification of needs and desires.
Freudian psychoanalysis explains desire in terms of how the subject defines
his or her relationship with an other. Lacanian psychoanalysis, however, became
more influential in film theory because of its analysis of spectatorial identification.
By applying Freudian and Lacanian theories to film theory, Christian Metz marks
psychoanalysis as a prominent school of thought.6 He argues that cinema becomes

animate through spectatorial participation and the psychical stimulation of existing
signifiers through the illusion of the moving image. In this sense, a film is a
construction of the spectator. By unpacking the question of how psychoanalysis
contributes to the activation of the cinematic signifier, Metz incorporates the
psychical processes of the Imaginary into theories of the cinematic apparatus, film
reception, and subject-positioning.
The concept of subject-positioning refers to the unconscious placement of the
spectator within the film. By positioning the spectator, the film enforces
identification with its images through a process of identifying with the point of view
of the camera. According to Gerard Genette, narrating is a process of manipulating
the spectators perspective, for narrative discourse involves a network of narrating
systems at work within the film.7 The film establishes meaning within the spectator
through psychological manipulation. The illusion of movement animated through the
omniscient apparatus evokes the illusion of mastering strictly the image.
Yet there is a considerable amount of controversy about spectator positioning
and mastering the meaning of the cinematic image. For example, from a Lacanian
perspective, it is possible to define mirror-misrecognition as a regression to a sense of
completeness similar to that brought about by the Mirror Stage, and primary
cinematic identification as the signifying act of looking. Combined, the concepts of
mirror-misrecognition and primary cinematic identification contribute to the various

theories of the cinematic boundary that define the spectator as psychologically and
emotionally separate from the film. These concepts or processes allow the spectator
to understand the cinematic image as an illusion. By transcending traditional
concepts of cinematic boundariesthe physical separation between the film on the
screen and the spectator in the theatrewe can argue that, through primary cinematic
identification, the spectator identifies with the point of view of the apparatus, which
records the moving image on the screen. Identification with the apparatus extends to
the spectator a sense of integration with the film and thus creates the illusion of
mastery over the image.
Traditional psychoanalytic film theory argues that the apparatus activates and
regulates desires in and therefore positions the spectator. As a result, concepts such
as voyeurism and scopophilia carry connotations of mental passivity. On the other
hand, the act of gazing while unseen delineates mental activity. Because the concepts
of voyeurism and scopophilia are based primarily on theories of visual perspective,
their appeal to film scholars carries various degrees of theoretical weight in relation
to the motion of subject-positioning. For example, Bordwell argues that theorists
generally utilize terms such as the position or place of the subject to suggest
passivity. To define a more mentally active spectator, Bordwell rejects the figurative
language and argues that the film prompts the spectator to respond to the image.8 In
other words, the film prompts the spectator to respond to the image. Although

Bordwells phrasing still places mastery within the apparatus rather than within the
spectator, his theory is based on a symbiotic relationship between the apparatus,
whose function would become insignificant without a spectator to see through its
lens, and the spectator, who would not exist without an image to observe. Theory,
then, to contradict Lacan, must surrender somewhat to empirical research if we are to
understand the interaction between perception and the mechanics of the motion
picture, a mental process that leads to the comprehension of the films narrative
through perceiving the phenomenon of apparent motion. Indeed, Bordwell correctly
asserts that a film does not physically position or place the spectator, but contra his
position I will argue that film does constantly place and displace the spectator
psychologically by creating the illusion of movement through time and space.9
Interestingly, to contradict Bordwell further, Mayne argues that
psychoanalysis has become the only logical means of interpreting the film (or any
text, for that matter), although, again, psychoanalysis is the basis of disbelief in
mastery in any form, including textual mastery. Indeed, psychoanalysis has proven a
formidable interpretive tool. Mayne, however, pushes aggressively forward by
indicating that although the theories have been revised since the mid-1970s,
spectatorship studies that do not take psychoanalytic investigation seriously will
severely limit the definition of the subject. In other words, Mayne acknowledges the

importance of psychoanalytic theory, but she also strives to acknowledge individual
diversity that psychoanalysis tends to ignore.
An approach to spectatorship and its relationship to the illusion of textual
mastery that incorporates the opposing ideas of Bordwell and Mayne becomes more
plausible than a theory arguing strictly spectatorial passivity. As indicated above,
Lacan decenters the unconscious and language and called into question traditional
empirical analysis, which permits him to deconstruct the mind and to approach the
social construction of the subject. Furthermore, the recent onslaught of theories in
cultural studies emphasizes the plurality of historically significant and distinct
viewing positions. To contribute to a theory that resolves the disagreements between
Bordwell and Mayne, it is necessary to confirm that theoretical speculation about the
mental processes of the spectator through the monolithic concept of the unconscious
will continue despite empirical research in social construction. To understand the
spectators unconscious endeavor to interpret a films meaning and obtain a degree of
mastery, it is necessary, first, to understand the empirical or physical composition of
the cinematic apparatus, and, second, to approach theories of the cinematic apparatus
through psychoanalytic reactions to its operations.
Through speculation based on empirical research, theories of vision and
spectatorship have changed drastically. From the normative visuals of early
Renaissance paintings to the eruption of postmodernist and experimental images,

theories of visual perspective have evolved in an attempt to explain the spectating
experience. The premise remains, however, that because scientists do not fully
understand the concept of visual perception, speculation based on a conceptual model
is the theorists only means of interpretation.
In his introduction to the process of viewing and gathering meaning from the
film, Jonathan Crary traces the historical evolution of the camera as a socially
constructed apparatus promoting visionary privilege.10 Crary argues that the rupture
with classical forms of vision occurred not in modem art and representation but much
earlier through a massive reorganization of knowledge, social practices, and
techniques of observation. However, he also suggests that the apparatus positions the
spectator. The ability of the camera obscura to influence patterns of vision through
the evolution of previously conceived viewing positions was embedded in the
subjects dense organization of knowledge.
Through the early nineteenth century, the camera obscura model harbored a
theoretical objectivity as the mechanism that could observe an image through
monocularity. However, as scientific research on the anatomy and physiology of the
eye commenced, vision became redefined as a subjectivity affected by various stimuli
and sensations that allowed the bearer of the gaze to optically misperceive the object
of the gaze. Crarys observation connotes the cameras ability to transform the
objectified image into a mobile illusion based on perspective and traces itself

psychoanalytically to the decentered subject of the Mirror Phase. Crary notes that,
through the evolution of the camera obscura as a model of discourse, the spectator
submits to the mechanics of the apparatus, for through its lens the spectator views a
strictly dictated representation of reality.11
Because of the apparatical positioning of the spectator, it has been argued by
structuralist critics such as Garrett and Rothman above that the auteur, the controlling
hand over the filming and the spectating experience, positions the spectator against
conventional subject/object relationships, as commonly occurs in avant-garde and
experimental films. The classical film spectator, as conceptualized in auteurism, is
unable to draw unintended meaning from the film. As a result, it is necessary to
question the validity of theories of the apparatus. Because structuralist film theory
constructs the situation and placement of the spectator in relation to the apparatus, it
marginalizes the spectating experience by limiting the spectators ability to
conceptualize the text by any means other than through the technology of the
monocular lens of the apparatus. The theories are incomplete and inflexible because
they ignore the possibility of an ideological deconstruction of the text, the spectator,
and the dividing gap (the awareness of temporal flux) between the text and the
spectator. With the open and collapsable structure of ideology, we can see how
deconstructing the apparatus leaves even the films dictated meaning flexible. The
meaning within the film, as indicated above, remains as fragmented as the spectator.

Structuralist film critics such as Jean-Louis Baudry also argue that the
spectator is deceived into believing that the picture on the screen appears real through
the mechanics of the screens culturally and politically reflexive properties.12 For
example, Baudry argues that projection and narration collaborate to disguise the
technique and technology that produce the image. Through political filtering by way
of bourgeois ideology, the illusion of cinematic mobility coerces the spectator to
believe that the image is unquestionably real. Through the positioning of the subject
through ideology, the spectator becomes the focus and origin of meaning. However,
it is dangerous to consider the concept of dominant ideology as monolithic, for the
conflicting components of ideology are never the definitive deciding factor in the
spectators attempt to construct textual meaning.
It is also paramount to understand that through the attempt to construct
meaning, the cinematic spectator is not permanently duped into believing that that
which is presented on the screen is a live performance. However, the concept of the
cinematic illusion as deception holds an important place in contemporary film theory.
Whereas a photograph portrays a moment frozen in time, film reveals a series of
images unfolding in time. The cinematic apparatus photographs distinct images but
exhibits them through the illusion of continual time and motion. Also unlike the
distinctly fixed and framed photograph, the cinematic image exhibits an unfixed
frame that extends into imaginary dramatic space: the camera possesses the ability to

widen or shrink the frame; characters move in and out of the frame; and sounds
transgress into the visible scene from outside space. Whereas film is a
representational system that incorporates the interaction between the presence and
absence of textual signifiers, the illusions of reality and mastery continually fluctuate
between real time and virtual time.13
Allen argues persuasively that the spectator experiences the cinematic illusion
by two means of identification. The first is by empathetically identifying with the
characters. The second, however, occurs through identification with the apparatus
by acknowledging the point of view of the camera, as argued above.14 The problem
with identifying with the apparatus, however, occurs when the apparatus and the
spectator lose sight of the images that disappear into imaginary, off-screen space.
For example, long takes potentially rupture the illusion, as I will explain in relation to
the pan shot following the shower scene in Psycho, during which the spectator
completely loses identification with Marion and does not regain identification with a
substitute, and in the various pan shots in Rear Window, which challenge the
protagonists ability to create meaning from a text and the spectators reach for
diegetic mastery.
The area of sight, affected through analytical editing, the speed of cuts, shot
exchanges, and the phenomenology of imaginary space, however apparent within the
frame they seem, offers problems regarding subject positions. Additional problems

occur in the function of the cinematic gaze to produce symbolic relations dependent
upon various shots and their own functions and values. One of the most important
questions to answer is how the spectator responds to the narrative text and identifies
with the characters while decentered by the ebb and flow of infinite meaning.
As indicated, cinematic identification contributes to experiencing and
understanding the cinematic illusion. Identification in Hitchcocks films is
encouraged not only by means of appropriate casting and intricate direction that
allows for spectatorial identification with the apparatus beyond the basic elements of
cinematic sentence construction. By examining applications of apparatus,
psychoanalytic, and narrative theories, we can construct a model of spectatorial
identification that challenges the problems and intricacies of textual mastery, for
poststructuralists have spilled vials of critical ink while attempting to understand this
controversial concept fraught with issues of a fractured and fragmented psyche.
Baudry and Metz contribute to the most comprehensive definitions of
identification. Baudry argues that the spectator identifies primarily with the
apparatus and secondarily with the textual representations it offers. Metz delves
beyond the technical and distinguishes between primary cinematic identification and
secondary cinematic identification. The former acknowledges the process of looking,
which makes identification possible. Through perceptual and unconscious processes,
the spectator passively follows the point of view of the apparatus, which indicates

direction such as where to look, at what angle, and in what lighting. Primary
cinematic identification is possible only because the spectator has undergone the
Mirror Stage, the initial construction of the ego, the distinction between self and the
misrecognition of the ideal other in visual images. In other words, the spectator
identifies with a character without confusing that identity with the self.
The latter, however, is the actual process of identifying with the textual
characters through the fulfillment of unconscious fantasies. Freuds A Child is
Being Beaten is the most frequently cited essay in defense of fantasy fulfillment and
secondary cinematic identification.15 Freuds argument evolves from analyzing the
isolated subject position of the infant during the primal scene, the act of the unseen
child watching the parents during sexual intercourse. Through his analysis, Freud
demonstrates the possibility of interchangeable subject positions within the fantasy by
linguistically altering the subject pronouns and alternating between active voice (My
father is beating the child) and passive voice (I am being beaten by my father and
A child is being beaten but I am probably watching). The subject, a woman in
Freuds case study, dons the roles of the punishing father, the beaten child, and the
spectator. The subject thus becomes movable and transgendered.
Metz identifies the primal scene as a unilateral voyeurism without
exhibitionism on the part of the object looked at (5), which stems from the parents
ignorance of the spectating child/subject. Likewise, the institution of classical

Hollywood cinema contributes specific features that encourage the restructuring and
re-enactment of the primal scene: the solitude of the spectator in the theatre; the
cinematic objects ignorance of being watched, based on the parents representational
absence; and the physical opposition between theatre/crib and screen/site of
intercourse. The parents become objectified by the infants gaze, but the infant
simultaneously attempts to gather meaning from the vision. Voyeurism, then,
becomes an active but repressed psychological event.
Analogously, like the unseen child who watches the parents interact, the
cinematic spectator watches the actors on the screen. The spectating experience
unconsciously reinforces the fulfillment of fantasy and desires by correlating the
characters, most likely during non-sexual encounters, with the parents. However,
Steve Neale asserts that voyeurism is marked by the discursive distance between the
subject and the object, which allows the spectator a degree of power over the
spectating experience.16 The spectator thus attempts to gather meaning through
distance from the text. On the other hand, like the young child who cannot possibly
comprehend the interaction between the parents, the spectator can only infer partial
meaning from the film because of the entangled strands of signifiers, only some of
which appear directly on the screen for immediate observation and interpretation.
Unlike the gaze of the young child in the crib, the apparatus manipulates the
cinematic spectators gaze or perception. As noted earlier, Baudry argues that the

apparatus traditionally offers direction in terms of character identification by
assigning subject positions. For example, point of view and reverse-shots, two of the
most common forms of editing in film language, construct the spectators awareness
of space and time by assembling fragmented images based on a system of cuts or
glances. The difference between the type of shots falls onto the action within the
scene: the reverse-shot occurs most often during conversations, the cutting back and
forth between speakers, while the point of view shot anchors the spectator as the
second subject of the gaze, which promotes misperceived identification with the off-
screen character, the absent other. The apparatus grasps much of the power of
directing the gaze, positioning the spectator, and establishing a basis of meaning. As
a result, the spectator interprets the cinematic sentence composed of the fragmented
shots and glances and mentally constructs an interpretation based only on the
direction of the apparatus.
The restructuring of film language unravels the conventional function of the
apparatus on many levels. For example, the wandering camera, the narrating entity
detached from support of the characters point of view, calls attention to itself as
independent of its classical function of recording reality. The wandering camera
identifies the spectator with the extradiegetic presence of the narrator, the
manipulator of the apparatus, located narratively within the film but primarily as a
textual agent calling attention to significant details. Most spectators do not

consciously reconstruct the narrator, for it is simply less laborious to grant the
omniscient presence the role of the cinematic guide. However, Bordwell argues that
when the more advanced or academic spectator chooses to construct the unseen
narrator, we must remember that the narrator is the product of organizational,
historical, and psychological principles.17 The process of identifying the narrator thus
allows the narrator to become a product of the narrative itself as constructed through
the discourse,..through the totality of meaning generated by the textual system.
Although many critics interpet the wandering camera as a vehicle for the
auteur to interfere with the spectating experience, which confirms that the spectator
deciphers the intended meaning from the film (the controlling narrator), the
wandering camera actually grants the spectator the ability to notice and interpret
textual cues not available to the protagonist, which bolsters the spectators sense of
control. The wandering camera implicates the spectator into the film but still
fragments the textual cues.. As signifiers, the cues remain links in an infinite chain of
inaccessible meaning.
A second unconventional use of cinematic language is direct address, the
instance that the character acknowledges the presence of the apparatus and thus the
spectator by staring into the mechanical eye.18 By acknowledging the frame, the
character challenges the concept of spectatorial voyeurism by transgressing the
narrative space of the film, which, as Marc Vemet argues, changes the objective

discursive form he/she to the subjective I/You}9 Direct address breaches the
boundary of the apparatus, and the subject and object relationship of classical
Hollywood cinema consequently produces the anxiety of spectatorial objectification
by way of the gaze of the voyeuristic characters: the anxiety caused by the characters
mastering the spectator.20
An investigation into the psychological effects of editing, however, covers
only a partially thorough explanation of spectatorial anxiety as preventing mastery
over the narrative power struggles in the classical Hollywood cinema. Recall that the
monolithic school of psychoanalysis strives to explain the process of identification
with the apparatus and with the film. To further explain the lack of spectatorial
mastery, we must transgress the monolithic concept of the unconscious and explain
the spectators contradictory position as conceived through cultural and political
influences on the attempted interpretation of meaning. As noted, the growing field of
cultural studies poses problems for the theorist approached by audience diversity
while attempting to explain textual interpretation. While psychoanalysis in fact
proves a laudable yet debatable form of approaching film theory, criticism of
spectatorship addressed by this school of thought must acknowledge the spectator
who falls prey to auteuristic direction. Proponents of auteuristic theory argue that the
directors intentions control visual stimulation in an attempt to reposition the

spectator, who is then unable to draw meaning from the text. However, even the
auteur creates and delivers the chain of signifiers through ideological contradictions.
Interpreting the powerful influence of ideology on spectatorial interpretation,
based on a shift in film/spectator relations, poses additional problems in interpreting
meaning. For example, whereas Crary addresses the apparatuss shift in significance
as a social construction, Corber argues that the purpose of competing ideological
differences is to contain excess social meaning that threatens to externally rupture the
system of representation.21 In other words, by responding to social construction and
interpretation, the subject, although containing and maintaining contradictory subject
positions through responses to external ideological pressure, molds an identity
comprised of those contradictions. Furthermore, Corber argues that although film,
for example, as a discursive element, cannot suture the entire social body collectively,
it organizes excess meaning, that which is intellectually and socially beyond the grasp
of diverse social formations, in a closed system of differences.22 By basing film
within a closed system of differences, the theorist can assess the effects of cinema in
relation to other discourses to understand the complicated ways in which it functions.
However, ideology remains an open system that itself begs interpretation. Whereas
the school of structuralism declares satisfaction by merely acknowledging the
contradictions and closing the system, deconstruction forbids submission to a final
reading. The contradictions themselves contain an infinite number of contradictions,

which simultaneously expands an existing open system and collapses a closed system
onto itself.
The concept of ideology remains important as a touchstone in the discursive
activity of textual interpretation and mastery. The spectator, supported by an existing
ideology, strives to discredit the message of the recognized dominant ideological
discourse provided by the auteur. However, proponents of the dominant ideology
attempt to disguise its intentions by covertly fusing with the subordinate ideology of
the spectator. For example, a reading of Hitchcocks Strangers on a Train (1951) can
include a discussion of the deaths of Bruno, a homosexual, and Miriam, the unfaithful
wife of the protagonist, two personalities Hitchcock advocates as deserving death.
But Hitchcock hides this message by correlating Bruno with a psychopath and
Miriam with a blackmailing adulteress, which villainizes them and conjures the
spectators death wish onto them, thus imposing the beliefs of the dominant ideology
(the auteur) onto the spectator.23
To further explore the theories covered above and their relation to film, I will
analyze the more complex language of cinematic shots and sequences. One of the
more controversial concepts of film language is the theory of the system of the
suture, which carries meaning based on ideology, psychoanalysis, the apparatus, the
gaze, and the impending anxiety through disintegrating degrees of mastery. The
suture is a type of editing based on a series of shots that positions the spectator within

the cinematic discourse through identifying with the apparatus and with the
characters beyond the psychological effects of the basic point of view shot and direct
address. Jean-Pierre Oudart and Jacques-Alain Miller separately formulated the
theory as a means of connecting the subject to the discourse. More specifically,
Oudart and Miller defined the subject position in relation to an absence or exclusion
within cinematic space, therefore applying more signification to imaginary space than
to space contained within the frame.24
Oudart advocates that the psychic processes that establish subjectivity are
repeated in film through the shot/reverse shot, which binds the spectator into the
coherence of the film. He also emphasizes the significance of the suture through
psychoanalysis by explaining the shot/reverse shot in terms of the Mirror Phase by
correlating the screen with the mirror, which initially intensifies the misperceived
identification process with the characters. But the existence of imaginary space
causes dissatisfaction and anxiety in the spectator as the apparatus blatantly reveals
the existence of an unseen other.
The first shot of the sequence invokes an image which causes anxiety because
the subject is ignorant of the identity of the off-screen character, the absent-one,
whose point of view is reproduced on the screen. The reverse shot, which reveals the
identity of the absent-one, sutures the spectator into the film by recreating the
original experience of identification. Because the meaning of the first shot, clarified

by revealing the identity of the absent-one in the counter shot, is presented
retrospectively of the first shot, the spectator must depend on the power of memory to
recall the original shot. Revealing the identity of the absent-one relieves the anxiety
caused by the mysterious disembodied gaze. During the release of anxiety, the
spectator is able to differentiate between the self and other until the process repeats
Because of the anxiety of suspense arguably caused by film language, we can
see that attempted textual mastery occasionally surrenders to auteurism. For
example, Daniel Dayan argues that the system of the suture is a complicated
ideological trap of codes for the spectator, who is forced to concede to the ideological
influences of the auteur who hides his or her intentions or codes within the film
language. In other words, when the anxiety fades, the spectator regains composure
until the following anxiety attack invoked by the apparatus and the next disembodied
point of view shot. However, because the system of the suture imposes the ideology
of the auteur during filming, the spectator, who watches the film later, which again
draws attention to the temporal abyss, loses access to the present and reconfirms
auteuristic authority.25
Kaja Silverman also addresses the power of the gaze and the system of the
suture but appropriates it psychoanalytically to the omniscience of the apparatus as
the authoritative, controlling, and mastering male gaze. The female protagonist

signifies the lack attributed to the female spectator whose gaze is controlled rather
than controlling. Also, as a strict proponent of feminist theory, Silverman argues that
the female attracts the male gaze and represents a victim of castration, which causes
the male to feel dominant yet induces castration anxiety. Her argument narrowly
suggests that all aspects of the suture focus on the male subject and female object
when the construct of the spectator experiences equal attempts at textual mastery
regardless of gender.26
While critics of suture contend that film language induces anxiety in the
spectator, Rothman objects and bases his argument on the power of the spectators
recognition and understanding of the three-part shot, therefore complete mastery of
the narrative sequence.27 Because Rothman argues that the other does not exist, he
removes the spectator from psychoanalysis. As a result, the spectator does not feel
obliged to accept the fleeting mystery of the absent-one as an omniscience, which
retains the spectators interpretive skills by diminishing the strength of the apparatic
gaze. Rothman also holds in a challenge to Metz and Dayan that film grammatology
does not build sentence on sentence to the final construction of a completed film
narrative because neither the single shot nor the suture constructs a sentence or a
statement about reality. Instead, Rothman argues that the film as a whole constructs
the statement, determined by more than merely analyzing point of view shots.
Therefore, Rothman grants complete authoritative power to the subject of the gaze.

However, by suggesting too quickly that the suture consists primarily of a
three-shot sequence consisting of viewer/view/viewer, Rothman argues that film
never presents an absent-one because the identity of the subject of the gaze is always
disclosed. Despite Rothmans refusal to acknowledge the psychological effects of
spectatorial anxiety, he correctly removes the spectator from the realm of strict
essentialism and historicizes the film experience by suggesting a critical history of the
use of film language rather than insisting that film language exists primarily to serve
the contradictions of ideology.
The shot/reverse shot, then, is not the only method for suturing textual
meaning, for the primary area under investigation is the subject position, created
through more than sign systems within film semiotics and their ideological impacts.
As discussed above, the effect of narrative space on spectatorial mastery is a pivotal
point, but further problematics occur in the function of the gaze to produce symbolic
relations dependent upon various cinematic shots and their own functions and values
within history. Another important question to answer is how the spectator responds
to and masters the discourse in relation to the temporal abyss.
Historical changes and a shift in definition of mass culture have triggered the
decline of a strictly psychoanalytic approach to film criticism and provide a distinctly
different approach to textual interpretation and mastery by debilitating the affects of
spectatorial anxiety. As a result, the concept of the ideal spectator developed by

psychoanalytic film theory has been replaced by redefining reception theory.
Accordingly, the collective gaze of mass culture has died and resurrected through
more private, individualized modes of consumption, such as through home viewing.
The controversy emerges by attempting to define mass culture through ideological
and cultural influences. While current theorists deconstruct the concept of the film
audience as various members of newly-created mass culture during an era of lower
spans of attention, the innovation of home-viewing, and the proverbial adrenaline
rush of popular culture,28 the spectatorial gaze, as invoked by psychoanalysis, has
been replaced by the spectatorial glance,29 which implies an even lower degree of
textual mastery.
Because sites of spectatorship have changed considerably, the influence of
exhibition has redefined the spectator. More specifically, the spectator has made a
transition from the general space of the public sphere, marked by multiple and
conflicting subject positions, to the isolated yet still conflicting space of the private
sphere. The spectator remains within discursive textual boundaries, still able to
attempt to interpret meaning but within different viewing parameters. The pertinent
question to address is the spectators historical position and its relation to film. More
specifically, while we can argue that theory and film are marked by their place in
history, we can also argue that the spectator, contrary to the ideal spectator postulated
by psychoanalytic theory in its attempt to manage the tension between competing

discourses, is marked and limited by his or her place in history, for historical
determinants impose limitations on textual mastery.30
Film theory and film texts have themselves become framed by history. For
example, we can divide film theory into distinct periods, notedly beginning with the
rise of academic film theory of the mid-1970s, which acts as the stepping stone onto
more intellectual readings of films and theoretical developments. Because of the
temporal abyss, each viewing occurs within a defined historical condition. Likewise,
the spectator partakes in the viewing experience only through utilizing skills learned
through interacting with other works of art, which exist beyond conception to be
experienced within alternate spectatorial positions and circumstances. The spectator,
also positioned in history, interacts ideologically with the textual discourse to attempt
to construct meaning, for meaning resides between the text, the historical subject, and
the task of bridging the abyss.
While exploring the option of a diverse audience rather than the ideal
spectator, Mayne offers a theory of spectatorship based on continual tension between
hypothetical subjects constructed by texts and actual historical viewers. Although she
approaches spectatorship through psychoanalysis, she raises to the front the concept
of diversity, an issue which earlier psychoanalytic critics fail to note in their reductive
search for the ideal viewer and the collective unconscious. Mayne deconstructs the

cinema, the cultural order, and the unconscious as fusions of various sources, values,
traditions, and vocabularies that must be analyzed separately rather than as one bound
unit. In the quest to understand audience diversity and textual mastery, it is also
important to understand and evaluate the predominance of the feminist standpoint,
which consists not only in attempting to explain the subject position of the female
spectator but more on her traditionally submissive stance.
In a noteworthy application of historical, apparatus, and feminist theories,
Anne Friedberg identifies the gendered gaze as a problematic within historical critical
theory. Friedberg defines the gaze as mobilized and virtual visuality without
assigning it to a specific gender.31 Likewise, to assign gender to the gaze yields
restrictive applications of psychoanalytic theory based on the concept of the ideal
spectator. To illustrate, the magistrate in Murder! (1930) encourages the jury at
Dianas trial, the box of judicial spectators, to weigh the testimony detached from her
traditional feminine qualities of beauty and passivity, because men and women must
be equal under the law or patriarchy. Assuming her innocence because of her gender
yields a completely biased hearing. The jury, including the women, accepts the
magistrates advice and quickly convicts her. Interestingly, a man, Sir John, is
convinced of her innocence based strictly on her appearance and character and
explores the case further. Although Sir Johns reasons are admirable, he stereotypes
the beautiful, feminine woman, as does classical Hollywood cinema, which illustrates

the problematics behind much feminist film theory, particularly in defining and
positioning the female spectator.
As discussed, psychoanalytic theory defines the film as the locus of
spectatorial desire. The apparatus positions the spectator and structures its
relationship with the screen along drives such as fantasy, scopophilia, and narcissism.
Early feminist theory assigns primary subject positions to the male spectator, the
subject of the gaze, who objectifies the female image during the activation of that
desire, and the female rebellion against the patriarchy through the internalization and
universalization of the feminine through essentialism, the female body.32 Later
feminist film theory, while still noting the objectification of women, presses further
along theoretic lines rather than dismissing the battle as futile. By offering
alternative subject positions for male and female spectators, many contemporary
feminist film theorists reposition the spectator psychoanalytically and historically by
reconstructing subjectivity and mastery.
While Allens thesis addresses the unconscious as collective, a genderized
reading of the spectator lies as a crucial issue behind psychoanalytic theories of
spectatorship as the first attempt at addressing diversity and mastery within the
audience. In the ground-breaking article Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, a
thesis that has received an extraordinary amount of response (including from the
author), Laura Mulvey argues that the classic film distinguishes pointedly between

men and women on the basis of point of view, objectification, and textual
interpretation and mastery.33 The stated purpose behind her thesis professes to use
psychoanalysis to discover where and how the fascination of film is reinforced by
pre-existing patterns of fascination already at work within the individual subject and
the social formations that have moulded him" (746, my emphasis). Through
Freudian analysis, Mulvey isolates the male spectator as the voyeur and defines him
in terms of his capacity to look and the female spectator as the exhibitionist in terms
of her capacity to attract the male gaze. The male, according to Mulvey, acts as the
only interpreter of textual meaning. Politically, the observed dichotomy conforms to
the dominant cultural and social roles assigned to men and women through the
apparently accepted domestic sphere as dictated by the Symbolic Order. Thus ends
her purpose and function. Mans purpose, however, rests on finding pleasure in
observation and domination, in recreating the female as a male without a penis
through castration or mutilation, thus a man without power, for the purpose of
To emphasize her argument, Mulvey contends that the cinema offers the male
subject several possible pleasures, including the scopophilic or voyeuristic pleasure of
mastering the gaze. As noted above, voyeurism stands as an actively hidden event by
the subject finding (sexual) pleasure from watching an unknowing object. Film
spectatorship, according to Mulvey, falls into the arena of voyeurism as the

characters conventionally remain unaware of an audience through the impassable
boundary of the invisible screen and because the cinematic conventions of darkness
and immobility separate the spectators from each other, which privatizes the event.
But Mulveys argument begins to crumble when she argues that male-
centered spectatorship, which revolves around narcissism and identification, involves
fantasies of mastery and control located within the metaphorical mirror image. Based
on Lacans postulation of the Mirror Phase, Mulvey examines the audiences
fascination with the human form and its separateness from the characters on the
screen. The heterosexual male subject, as the active spectator, projects his gaze onto
the female character as the object of his fantasy. Traditionally regarded as
exhibitionists, women become objects on display, their appearance coded for strong
visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness
(750), which.signifies male desire. The female object, however, induces feelings of
distress in the male. The male observes that the female lacks a penis, which evokes
castration anxiety. However, Lacan questions the Freudian-based argument based on
the signification of absence, for why must he assume the attributes of that sex only
through a threatthe threat, indeed, of their privation? (Phallus 281). The phallus,
although not always synonymous with penis, can play its role only when veiled, that
is to say, as itself a sign of the latency (Phallus 288, my emphasis). The phallus,
consists of the penis plus the idea of lack, which becomes less a fictitious object by

way of a fetish than a signification of that which is absent. As indicated, the subject,
based in language and society, is linked to the Symbolic. The passage into language,
introduces the idea of loss or absence, symbolized by the phallus and referential to
castration. The Symbolic assists in maintaining a stable male identity through
distorting the sexual difference between men and women. But according to feminism
based on psychoanalysis, the male is not imprisoned by these subconscious attacks.
For Mulvey, the male unconscious has two forms of escape: by re-enacting the
original trauma and re-punishing the woman through the narrative, or by identifying
the female body as a fetish by overcompensating for her lack and transferring it into
something satisfying.34
The fetish as a psychoanalytic concept that pertains to mastery begs analysis
because it is understood as a point of disavowal, the departure of an operation that
consists in radically contesting the validity of that which suspends belief in the given
or obvious in such a way that a new perspective opens up beyond the given. Like
Mulvey and, earlier, Freud,35 Metz argues that the fetish is an object that acts as a
substitute for the mothers absent penis, which encourages denial of the fear of
castration and reinforces the belief in the phallic mother. Likewise, Metz attributes
the same psychological disbelief to the cinematic spectator, who, by transgressing the
temporal abyss, .must perceptually replace the absent character, who is present only
through representation for purposes of identification. Although the child may

become overly anxious on the discovery of the lack, the cinematic spectator finds
visual pleasure rather than trauma in attending the cinema without necessarily
applying a fetish to the absent character. Otherwise, particularly noted through the
application of social construction theory, without visual pleasure the spectator would
refuse to go to the movies. This is not to say that film viewing is analogous with
fetishism. Through repression, the child cannot actively respond to the anxiety
associated with castration or lack. Likewise, the anxiety produced through the
inability to completely master the meaning of the film is unconscious and therefore
Because the spectator remains anxious and fragmented, the cinematic illusion
reinforces the spectators false sense of absolute mastery. To briefly readdress
feminist film theory, it is imperative not to grant the power of the gaze to the female
spectator solely to be on equal footing with the male spectator.36 Male and female
spectators, although arguably diverting their gazes based on opposing ideological
signals, always stand on equal footing as subservient to the entangled web of infinite,
inaccessible meaning.
Also, while cinematic representations of male and female characters address
subjective mastery within the spectator, classical Hollywood cinema attempts to
represent these characters as ideological stereotypes to introduce a sense of
normalization within the text. As de Lauretis argues, cinema assumes that images are

meaningful independent of context or reception, and that spectators are ahistorical,
located outside of cultural systems. To overcome normalization and recognize
alternative definitions of masculinity and femininity (assuming that classical narrative
cinema will not amend its representation of men and women), theorists must devise
methods to read alternative subject positions into the text, and subjects must open
themselves to interacting differently with the characters. Therefore, if it is possible to
identify with the characters based on divergent theories of the gendered spectator, we
can reject traditional subject positions that deconstruct the text by stripping down the
primitive, libidinal, sadistic gaze of the voyeur or scopophiliac.37
Textual mastery becomes ultimately destabilized through the cinematic
illusion of final closure, which is particularly absent from Hitchcocks films. Simple
narrative discourse defines a chain of episodes or narrating systems linked by cause
and effect while the core of the narrative develops and interacts with each episode to
create conflict. The narrative closes when the chain of cause and effect appears
resolved through a logical conclusion, through a stylistic framing of the text and
story. In classical Hollywood cinema, the ending will often refer to the beginning of
the film, to the ultimate cause, as if resolving full circle, by attaching discursive
closure devices that call an end to the narration, such as an epilogue. When the
spectator establishes and comprehends the causal relationship between beginning and
ending, he or she receives a sense of closure, or more accurately, closure effect. In

Hitchcocks films, we find more of a dangling closure, the strong anxiety caused by a
feeling of unresolved issues, as in The Lodger and Rear Window, or the inability to
discover the causal relationship between beginning and ending or identify the primary
narrator, as in Psycho. The spectator often reads the closing shots for their anchoring
proof and summarization of the codes that set the action in motion within the text as a
The films I will discuss do in fact reinforce narrative closure, but the story
often transgresses the narrative and credits beyond the endpoint. While Richard
Neupert argues that films that fail to resolve neatly appeal to a realistic aesthetic,38
Hitchcocks films make virtue of narrative strategies that fragment story events and
reinforce spectatorial anxiety through the uncertainty of knowledge, constant
accumulation of tension and suspense, and insecure subject positions through lack of
identification, For example, I will examine unstable identification in The Lodger,
shifting perspectives in Rear Window, and identification with an absent figure that
propels the plot of Psycho. The cinematic (non)conventions that construct
Hitchcocks films in turn deconstruct their narratives; the failure to successfully and
intellectually grapple with style and discourse while succumbing to the illusion of
mastering the film upholds spectatorial anxiety, even when the film has ended.
The above exploration through the theorization of spectatorship and its role in
the creation and exhibition of cinema creates the setting for the study that follows: to

discover how interpretive mastery over Hitchcocks films occurs through progressive
degrees, how the illusion of complete interpretive mastery ultimately fragments the
spectating/communicating experience, and how Hitchcocks films rupture narrative
space, which decenters the spectating experience. Rather than applying definitive
theories to each film (for I have proven that the growing discipline of contemporary
film theory yields interesting complications within current schools of thought),391
offer a rigourous format that allows us better to understand the phenomenon of
spectatorship and its critical impact on the area of film studies. The novelty of my
analysis transcends examinations of the narrative structure of Hitchcocks films, for
when the film ends, the narrative and interpretive processes have not necessarily
come to fruition. The thesiss purpose is to shift away from the traditional boundary
between film and spectator and to address the degree of spectatorial mastery that
imposes complications onto the narrative structure and again onto the interpretation

To begin my investigation of the concept of textual mastery, that is, how it
occurs through progressive degrees, how it ultimately fragments the spectating/
communicating experience, and how Hitchcocks films rupture narrative space, I find
it important to begin with an analysis of one of his earliest silent films, for the
absence of dialogue as a narrative element and the emphasis strictly on images serve
as a firm basis for a more complicated approach to the non-silent films. Interestingly,
many theorists define non-verbal visual art and the function of imagery in silent films
as sign systems that convey meaning only in terms of exhibition and spectatorship.
For example, elitist essayists such as Le Corbusier, Theodor Adorno and Max
Horkheimer argue that under the dominant culture industry the form of a work of art
is more significant than its content because we find reality and objectivity through
recognizing form. In response, Mary Kelly argues that a silent work of art, such as a
photograph or painting, cannot define itself as art because it lacks the means of verbal
language. Instead, it is defined by means of its conception, production, and reception
in a way that is coincident with language. From a deconstructive perspective, we
can conclude that because art is defined as coincident with language, the work must

contain the same entangled web of signifiers and meaning. Likewise, Paul Coates
argues specifically in relation to silent film that the absence of verbal communication
enables the spectator to concentrate specifically on the visual image.1 Based on these
statements, we can conceive of the silent film as its own entangled discourse, which
semiotically isolates the construction of meaning specifically within mise-en-scene or
the visual elements of film language.
Historically, the silent narrative film evolved from the cinema of attractions,
generally dating pre-1907, which exploited the concept of narrative and positioned
the spectator in a realm based specifically on watching without physical or mental
interaction, therefore lacking mastery. We can conceive of the cinema of attractions
as a moment of spectacle, as soliciting attention and curiosity specifically through
display, through the punctual visual attention it draws to itself in the absence of the
narrative elements of characterization, causality, and narrative suspense. The
spectator, then, is positioned less as a participant in the fictional narrative and more
as an observer held by curiosity or amazement.
However, this definition of the cinema of attractions leaves no theoretical
space for interpreting the film. The opposing modes of spectator address (narrative
and spectacle) actually interact within any film. As I have argued, the implied
spectator, the passive observer, actually maintains a significant historical position in
film analysis. The common presence of a barker or narrator at the cinema of

attractions acted as a mediator between the audience and the film, which prevented
the viewers from ignoring their subject positions before a display: they were not
merely the voyeurs defined by early film theorists.
Furthermore, the apparent shock value delivered by the authentic footage of
early films such as Electrocuting an Elephant (1903) and Beheading the Chinese
Prisoner (1900) not only arguably catered to sadistic impulses or motivation for
moral truth.2 They also exposed the spectator to an ideological impact with which
they were familiar. The speed of motion and the rapidity of editing often correlated
with the sudden eruption of urban modernity. For example, early critical thinking
about metropolitan life emphasized the intelligence required for survival and the
prevention of independent thinking and contemplation because of the rapid pace.3
However, like attending the cinema, the popularity of window shopping and
exploring street-side arcades proved to be an incredibly gratifying experience.4 The
concept of spectatorial mastery, then, not only has a theoretical but a social basis as
Turning to The Lodger, we must draw attention strictly to the films visual
discourse and its impact on interpretation as a spectating experience. Because the
film lacks the mysterious disembodied scream in Rear Window and Mrs. Batess
berating voice in Psycho, as I will discuss in more detail in the following chapters,
approaching the illusion of textual mastery strictly through the silent language of

editing serves as an exemplary introduction. Spectatorial responses to silent film
language prove to be fascinating, particularly as recorded by cinema patrons in the
1920s. For example, Virginia Woolf recorded her eloquent response to the relatively
innovative concept of the horror film5 and film language after viewing The Cabinet of
Dr. Caligari (1927), released the same year as The Lodger:
at a performance of Dr. Caligari the other day a shadow shaped like a
tadpole suddenly appeared at one comer of the screen. It swelled to an
immense size, quivered, bulged, and sank back again into nonentity.
For a moment it seemed to embody some monstrous diseased
imagination of the lunatics brain .... But if a shadow at a certain
moment can suggest so much more than the actual gestures and words
of men and women in a state of fear, it seems plain that the cinema has
within its grasp innumerable symbols for emotions that have so far
failed to find expression. Terror has besides its ordinary forms the
shape of a tadpole; it burgeons, bulges, quivers, disappears .... Is
there, we ask, some secret language which we feel and see, but never
speak, and, if so, could this be made visible to the eye? Is there any
characteristic which thought possesses that can be rendered visible
without the help of words?6
As indicated above, it is not only the profound phenomenology of communication
between the visual images and the spectator, but it is also the rapidity of editing that
often displaced the spectator by inhibiting suspension of disbelief. To contribute to
the disconcerted state of spectating, through editing inspired by German
Expressionism (from the influence of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), Hitchcock
delivers a tale that rapidly and continuously positions and repositions the spectator as
subject and object of the gaze, as murderer and victim, in a tightly structured
narrative. The absence of a defined identity for the protagonist and the elusive,

unseen presence of the antagonist position the spectator within the discursively
entangled web, for the identity of each character blurs, which intensifies spectatorial
anxiety linked to lack of identification and complete mastery of interpretation.
The Lodger, a Story of the London Fog tells the tale of a mysterious mans
quest to exact revenge on the Avenger, the murderer who took the life of his sister.
The film begins with the extreme close-up of a woman screaming. A neon sign
blinks: To-Night. Golden Curls. The camera sits at a low angle next to a womans
body sprawled in the street with a note from the Avenger. A witness describes the
murderer as a man with a scarf pulled up over the lower half of his face. As a radio
announcer reports the murders, the camera dissolves to the faces of listeners with
various expressions.
In the Bunting house, Mrs. Bunting opens the front hall door to a man with a
muffler wrapped around his neck and face (Ivor Novello) in the midst of a whirling
fog. He reveals his face and asks about the room for rent. Upstairs, the Lodger gasps
at various portraits of blond women, the last one a picture of a woman tied to a tree.
When left alone, he hides his black satchel in a cabinet. When Mrs. Bunting returns,

she finds him turning the portraits to the wall. Im afraid I dont like these
pictures, he complains.
Downstairs, Joe Betts (Malcolm Keen), Daisy, and Mrs. Bunting hear the
Lodger pacing. As they gape at the ceiling, he appears as they imagine him from
beneath, walking above them, only the chandelier in between.
The title reads One evening, a few days later, the Lodger made himself
agreeable. The Lodger and Daisy play chess and flirt in front of the fireplace in his
room. Be careful, Ill get you yet, he warns. She drops a chess piece on the floor
and, as she reaches to pick it up, he leans over with her, picks up the fireplace poker,
stares at her, and stabs the fire.
Later that night, the Lodger emerges from his room wearing his scarf and hat.
Mrs. Bunting hears him and sits up in bed alarmed. The camera views his exit from a
high angle. Mrs. Bunting rises to see him cross the street outside. Outside a large
building, a crowd gathers around the corpse of a blond woman and finds the
Avengers card.
Another night, Mrs. Bunting runs through the house calling for her daughter.
Mr. Bunting finds her at the bottom of the stairs and she collapses onto him. I let
her go out with the Lodger ... and its Tuesday night! When Joe jealously meddles
with them sitting alone on a bench, the Lodger takes Daisy home. As he sits in

dejection, Joe notices a footprint in the ground, superimposed by a montage of the
paintings, the Lodgers embrace with Daisy, and his pacing.
When the Lodger and Daisy return to the Bunting house, Joe, with a search
warrant, demands the key to the Lodgers cabinet, where he finds the satchel with a
gun, the map of the Avenger murders, and some news clippings. The Lodger
announces that his sister was the first victim. Meet me by the lamp, the Lodger,
handcuffed, tells Daisy as he escapes.
On the bench under the street lamp, the Lodger sleeps until Daisy finds him,
and he tells her the story of his sister. During the films flashback, the Lodger and
his sister dance at her coming-out ball. The camera moves through a window to
observe the scene. Suddenly, an ungloved hand extinguishes the lights. When the
lights are turned on again, the crowd surrounds his sisters corpse. The Lodger
explains that his mother died from the shock. He sits by her bed and at her request
swears he will bring the Avenger to justice.
Outside a pub, Daisy and the Lodger split up as a crowd, believing he is the
Avenger, pursue him. Joe, hearing that the real Avenger has been arrested, runs to
save him. The Lodger catches his handcuffs on a railing and hangs dangling above
another street as the crowd converges on both sides and beat him until blood appears
at his mouth. Joe and his men push through the crowd. Finally, Joe and his men

extricate him as the evening paper announces the Avengers arrest. Daisy kisses the
beaten Lodger and the film ends with their marriage.
The Lodger's most stunning language speaks through its point of view shots
and its relationship to the apparatus. As a silent film, The Lodger relies on editing to
evoke the language of the cinema, but the narrative and editing together reveal the
ability of the camera to deny perspective and spectatorial mastery. For example, the
opening shot frames the extreme close-up of a screaming woman, but the spectator is
permanently denied access to the object of and thus mastery of her gaze. The suture
here remains eternally incomplete, but through the diegesis alone we learn that the
absent-one in the opening shot is the Avenger, whose background unfolds only
through the account of a witness and newspaper reporters, and later by the Lodger.
Rothman suggests that the camera and the murderer carry a mysterious bond.7 By
fusing the apparatus with the spectator through the victims direct gaze, the spectator
becomes aligned with the Avenger, with the murderer of blond women on Tuesday
nights, arguably with the misogynist.8 But this is not always the case, for the
spectator experiences the anxiety of unknowingly identifying with two separate

Through the gaze of the apparatus, the spectator discovers a disturbing
cohesion between the Lodger and the Avenger. During an extremely important
sequence, that of the Lodgers arrival at Buntingss flat, the film poses the possible
link between the protagonist and antagonist. The initial cut to the dimming wall lamp
signals his arrival, a fading of light and dark that alludes to a possible menacing
presence. On another level, according to Rothman, this shot draws on and parodies
theatrical conventions. Hitchcock has thus acknowledged and involved the spectator
in the film by aligning the spectating experience with the anxiety of suspense by
introducing the theoretical stain, the light that flickers and fluctuates like the interplay
of signifiers that fragment the spectator.
The following shot frames the entrance, the door marked 13. The camera
tracks forward as the visitors shadow looms onto the door, and his gloved hand
reaches out to grasp the knocker. Because the apparatus frames the strangers point
of view, Hitchcock positions the spectator in the role of the absent-one, which forms
an insecure identification, for we are unsure with whom we are gaining identification.
The following shot portrays Mrs. Bunting approaching the door; the second, a close-
up of Mrs. Bunting opening the door; the third framing the visitor in the doorway; the
fourth, Mrs. Buntings shocking reaction to the ominous stranger; and the fifth, a
reverse shot to the visitor, the sight of the Lodger that causes her reaction. The
Lodger, who stares directly into the camera, appears as the spectator imagines the

Avenger based on the testimony of witnesses: crazed eyes, dark trenchcoat, muffler
wrapped around the mouth, emersed in a grey fog.
Spectatorial anxiety intensifies from the actuality that we lack knowledge of
his true identity, although critics such as Maurice Yacowar argue naively that
Hitchcock tricks the spectator into convicting the Lodger based merely on
circumstantial evidence.9 Conclusively, if the spectator cannot gain a sense of
identification with the protagonist, it is impossible to master the complete meaning of
the film. At this point, the spectator has seen more diegetic material than the
Buntings, who do not make the connection between the stranger and the description
of the Avenger in the newspaper. The spectator suspects to possess more knowledge
than the films characters, but there is not as yet sufficient evidence. The spectator
has no reason to believe that this mysterious man is the Avenger, for his off-screen
presence or lack of identity is far removed from the silhouette of an old woman (so it
seems) pacing in front of her bedroom window as in Psycho or a mysterious woman
in black leaving with a man from his apartment as in Rear Window.
Furthermore, the shot of the Lodger approaching the entrance shifts point of
view and thus the spectators position of mastery when he enters the Buntingss flat.
On approaching, the Lodger acts as the subject of the gaze aligned with the camera
and with the spectator. While standing in the doorway, he becomes the object of
Mrs. Buntings gaze and that of the spectator, all shocked by his appearance. As the

Lodger waits in the hallway during the chaos of the cuckoo clock and Mr. Bunting
falling from the stool, he stands with his back to the camera, framed by the stairway
on the right of the screen, thus, through semiotic interpretation, signifying a powerful
or moral character, but, more fittingly, completely positioned as the object of the
spectatorial gaze rather than the subject of the monocular apparatic gaze.
The Lodgers ascent to his quarters signifies division of planes or height.
Dennis Zimite argues that a structuralist approach to vertical film space signifies
important character traits. For example, the main level of a house or flat
characterizes banality and social acceptance. The upper level, on the other hand,
characterizes a malignant force.10 The Bunting family itself lives on the main floor,
the locus of family activity. The Lodgers ascent from the main level to the second
floor is shot first from the bottom of the staircase with the characters back to the
camera. The following shot immediately cuts to the top of the landing to greet the
Lodger and Mrs. Bunting, who approach the camera. Although Zimite argues that
this cut privileges us to the title characters sinister territory (5), he fails to note that
the spectator already stands at the top of the steps, which signifies the spectators
accusatory role, the frantic attempt to master the Lodgers identity: the spectator not
only suspects that the Lodger may be the Avenger and prepares to prosecute him if
the suspicion proves correct, but the spectator also anxiously attempts to infer
meaning from the lack of immediate clarity of the representational system.

The shot of the Lodger standing to the left of the mirror in his room, which
frames a portrait of a blond woman, signifies the spectatorial fragmentation similar to
that of the blond models who look into their mirrors at the fashion show. More
importantly, the shot signifies the Lodgers apparent identification with the Avenger,
standing to the left of the mirror, significant of deviance, reflecting back onto the
spectator as if implicating the same degree of guilt that consumes the protagonist.
The following shot, in which he appears with his back in the mirror, frames him
twice: once within the frame of the film, and again within the frame of the mirror.
This shot positions him in both worlds, as object of the spectatorial gaze and subject
of the gaze toward the painting that shares the frame. On one level the frame
identifies the Lodger with the spectator, and on another identifies him with the
Avenger, maliciously obsessed with the paintings blond figure. Again, at this point,
the spectator begins to draw unsupported conclusions. The following shot, which
shows him at the window, a shadow dividing his face, his character, further contains
his mystery; the newsboys report of another Avenger murder has attracted his
attention, but the spectator is unsure of the Lodgers interest.
The Lodgers pacing again defines the character as enigmatic. The apparatus
addresses Joe, Daisy, and Mrs. Bunting, who watch the lamp swing from the
perspective of a high-angle shot. The following shot, taken from a low angle,
completes the suture as the three characters imagine the Lodgers pacing feet through

a transparent floor, which positions him again in the higher plane conventionally
associated with the diabolical. As the Lodger descends the staircase on Tuesday
night, the spectator discovers a new level of space in the Buntings s flat. Although
the Lodgers quarters are above the main floor, Mrs. Buntings bedroom is one
additional floor higher, which allows her to watch the Lodger descend the winding
staircase, framed by an overhead shot. According to Zimites interpretation, Mrs.
Bunting falls into a more malicious realm than does the films mysterious main
character. Zimite does argue that Mrs. Buntings vicious stare into the camera from
the highest plane identifies her as a malignant force (6). However, Mrs. Buntings
direct gaze only signifies suspicions of her tenants strange nocturnal behavior, which
she connects the next morning with the Avengers murders. Her direct gaze also
aligns her suspicion with that of the spectator, equally suspecting but also
incriminated in the murders.
Coates accurately asserts that the language of the face in silent films cannot be
repressed, controlled, or easily subordinated to narrative because it is impossible to
translate facial signals into unequivocal messages (20). Without the signifier of
sound in cinema, it is difficult to interpret meaning from Mrs. Buntings expression
when the Lodger leaves, malicious or otherwise. However, the Lodger himself takes
great pains to address the camera throughout the film, particularly while watching
Daisy. For example, the scene at Daisys fashion show begins with the Lodger

directly addressing the camera. The object of his gaze turns from the spectator to his
female object of interest. The spectator remains unsure of his purpose, whether
attraction toward her or desire to kill her. However, the meaning apparently takes
form later, when the Lodger leans into the camera to kiss Daisy, but again the
spectator can only anxiously speculate. The Lodger remains a metaphorical phantom
until the police discover that he is not in fact the Avenger, whose identity ultimately
remains secretive.
Throughout the film, Daisy remains the female object of the male gaze, from
the perspectives of the Lodger and Joe. However, she also remains the female
subject who objectifies and falls in love with the Lodger. In a feminist reading, Eric
Guthey argues that because Daisy is the female subject, the jealous spectator, the
male in the classical Hollywood sense, aligns himself with Joe in the wish to punish
Daisy for desiring the mysterious and apparently malicious Lodger.11 According to
the spectator, Daisys punishment must occur by one of two means: either the Lodger
reveals himself as the Avenger and murders Daisy, or, to spare her life, the Lodger
reveals himself as the Avenger and is arrested, which deprives Daisy of her object of
desire. While Guthey correctly asserts that the spectators anxiety may yield to
competition with the protagonist, his argument remains incomplete because he, like
Mulvey, assumes that the spectator is a heterosexual male who desires Daisy. Either
way, although the spectator masters meaning through Daisys amorous actions, which

suggest her growing attraction to the Lodger, at a higher, more intricate level, the
spectator cannot attain complete textual mastery of the protagonist or the film in its
discursive, narrative entirety, for the Lodgers motives remain a mystery until the end
of the film.
However, Joe attempts to master Daisys body as he parallels capturing the
Avenger with marrying his beloved. According to feminist theory, Joe defines the
female as a term of difference, which leads to her containment through punishment or
through the socially acceptable institution of marriage. In a subsequent scene, Joe
handcuffs Daisy, which signifies punishment and containment, like the misogynistic
painting that deeply distresses the Lodger, and also like the spectator who identifies
with the Avenger.
The metanarrative of the films flashback allows the spectator to attempt to
confirm textual mastery by maintaining the discrepancy of the Lodgers identity but
only through a narrative recounted strictly from his perspective.12 The first shot
portrays the Lodger and his sister dancing with their backs to the camera. Because
the apparatical gaze does not correspond with the gaze of the Lodger, the point of
view seems to default to that of the Avenger hiding behind the grillwork, which
identifies him with the murderous intentions of the spectator, detailed first through
the opening scene and at the close during the Lodgers attack. When the Lodger and
his sister exit the frame, the camera cuts to three switches on the wall and to an

ungloved hand that extinguishes the lights. The spectator discerns that the absent-one
is the Avenger, but Rothman argues that there is no evidence in the flashback that
decisively answers this question. Rothman is correct on two counts. First, the
apparatus never reveals the Avengers face, and the murderers calling card does
signal his presence. Second, the hand does not wear a glove, which implies that the
Lodger potentially steps away from his sister, exits the frame, extinguishes the lights,
and commits murder. While a glove would have echoed the arrival of the Lodger and
his hand on the doors knocker, the absence of the ominous stain at this point
certainly aligns the identities of the Lodger and the Avenger. The problem remains,
however, that the Lodger recounts the flashback, for he would never admit to Daisy
or to the spectator that he is the murderer. Like the false flashback in Stage Fright
(1950), the metanarrative proves to be an unreliable source of information,
particularly when told from the perspective of the problematic character, although it
grants the spectator a firm yet illusory sense of mastery.
During the Lodgers persecution, the spectator retains the illusion of textual
mastery but only through the diegesis, for when the auteur overtly hands information
to the spectator, the illusion of mastery yields to spectatorial submission. Through
the narrative, Joe learns that the police have captured the Avenger and races to rescue
the Lodger from the primal, vigilante mob. However, like the helpless Jeffries of
Rear Window, the spectator is unable to rescue the Lodger from their murderous

hands. The Lodger, again directly addressing the camera, not only positions the
spectator as isolated and helpless during his attack, like himself, but also in the
position of the murderous mob, which will follow in The 39 Steps (1935) as Mr.
Memorys audience throws absurd questions his way, and as Richard Hannays
politically motivated audience attempts to lynch him after a spontaneous presentation.
Consequently, as the spectator attempts to gain mastery over the film, Hitchcock
aligns the spectator and the apparatus with the murderous weapon, with the violent
attempt to dismember the Lodger and textually control him.
Oddly, though, The Lodger ends fairly neatly, moreso than many of
Hitchcocks other films. The plot of the basic murder mystery structures the film, but
the diegesis stresses solving the case of true identity of the protagonist rather than the
identity of the murderer. The Lodger, again, stresses innovative editing that
questions the protagonists identity. On another level, the film continuously positions
and repositions the spectator as subject and object of the gaze, as murderer and
victim. One level of textual mastery, however, comes about at the end of the film, on
the discovery of the Lodgers true identity. However, the spectator does not solve the
mystery, for it is only through the involvement of Joe, a minor character, that we
discover the Lodgers innocence. Rather than capturing the Avenger with blood on
his hands within the primary diegesis, the spectator, like Joe, learns of the arrest

second-hand through a telephone conversation with another police officer, an absent
The spectator now understands the reliability of the flashback, but anxiety
lingers at the problematic closing of the film. The Lodger has recovered from his
attack, and he and Daisy have married. However, not only do the identity and
background of the Avenger remain a mystery, but many events in the epilogue echo
events from the beginning of the film, particularly the chaotic actions and Mr.
Buntings physical disturbance at the Lodgers initial arrival, which continuously
destabilizes spectatorial identity with the protagonist. As indicated, Neupert argues
that the end of the film demands the spectators reconsideration of prior events by
becoming a dynamic location for meaning acquisition and the testing of spectating
assumptions. The spectator must read the final shots of the film for their anchoring
proof and condensed summary of the codes set in motion within the entire text.
Through my analysis of The Lodger, I have proven that interpretive mastery
over Hitchcocks films occurs through progressive degrees, how the illusion of
complete interpretive mastery ultimately fragments the spectating/communicating
experience, and how Hitchcocks films rupture narrative space, which decenters the
spectating experience. Mastery of The Lodger prevails as a mystery, for the
spectator, although accepting the completeness of the text, attempts to interpret the
text while mentally struggling through enigmatic point of view shots and

identification with the absent Avenger/present Lodger and remains entangled in the
web of signifiers. Because the film opens after the Avenger has begun his rampage,
we too quickly accept his presence rather than acknowledge his absence. Indeed, a
large triangle reminiscent of the Avengers calling card introduces each scene,
including that which follows his capture. But we must remember that the spectator,
like the child during the Mirror Phase, remains decentered by attempting to construct
a significant picture from fragmented images, from the ruptured narrative space. The
Lodger, the fragmented sign system, remains twisted and disordered, for while we
attempt to discover the true identity of the Lodger and struggle through eternal
signifiers, the Avenger dismembers us and continuously reminds us of his presence.
In other words, the spectators inability to comfortably identify with the protagonist
induces not only a psychological state of anxiety but also the uncanny refusal to
consistently meet or experience the primary cinematic gaze to avoid further
dismemberment. The signifiers of Lodger and Avenger thus have collapsed into each
other, fragmented the narrative structure, and elusively escaped interpretation by a
spectator unable to distinguish between sets of gloved hands dismembered from the
frame, from the apparent site of visible action. Interestingly, it is what occurs outside
the frame that dismembers the victim, that prevents the completion of the interpretive
process. In the following chapter, we will discover more graphic dismemberment

when the site of murder enters the frame and faces the spectator, when interpretation
becomes more fragmented as the text directly challenges the frame.

Hitchcocks films readily conform to conventional critical claims. For
example, they demonstrate the power of the male gaze as the films controlling
mechanism in the quest for the heterosexual relationship, as Raymond Bellour
proclaims,1 and the objectification of women as proposed by feminist film theory, as
discussed previously by theorists such as Tania Modleski. But the directors ability
to draw from and adapt earlier film techniques leaves room for the evolution and
development of new critical claims. For instance, by incorporating psychoanalysis
and apparatus theories as methodological tools, the following analysis of Rear
Window contributes to seeking the answer to the question of how interpretive mastery
occurs through progressive-degrees, how interpretive mastery ultimately fragments
the spectating/communicating experience, and how Hitchcocks films rupture
narrative space by illustrating how the film dismembers, fragments, and segments the
protagonist and the spectator, for neither maintains a dominant stance or a masterful
eye. I will examine how the film signifies absence and interpretive limitation
through the diegetic language of cinematic fantasies and through the haunting energy
emitted by the dismembered Mrs. Thorwald, whose profound absence rouses the

critical mind. I will also highlight the protagonists relationship with the camera,
with the spectator, and with the spectating process, emphasized by the power of the
shot and the gaze through the reflexive properties of mise-en-abyme. Because
Hitchcocks films drive the audience to identify with the characters, it is necessary to
consider the narrative in relation to the spectator, the spectator to the characters, and
the spectators inability to interpret the sign system.
Rear Window recounts the story of L. B. Jeffries (James Stewart), a
photographer, injured on the job, who becomes obsessed with watching his neighbors
who live across the courtyard from his apartment: Miss Torso the dancer, Miss
Lonelyhearts, the couple who sleeps on the fire escape, the composer with writers
block, and a salesman, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), and his invalid yet
condescending wife. But Stella (Thelma Ritter), Jeffriess nurse from the insurance
company, warns her patient of the consequences of voyeurism.
One evening, Jeffries wakes to an extreme close-up of Lisa Carol Fremont
(Grace Kelly), his too perfect socialite girlfriend, who displays her $1100 dress and
catered dinner for two from Twenty-One. Over wine, she offers to give him
publicity and to make fashion portraits; however, her domesticity does not outweigh
Jeffriess love of travel. Together they watch the neighbors: Miss Torso hosting a

party; Miss Lonelyhearts mimicking a dinner for two; the composer playing the
Later that night, Jeffries hears a scream and glass breaking across the
darkened courtyard. Even later, he notices that Thorwld takes several excursions
from his apartment. While he sleeps the next morning, Thorwald leaves his
apartment with a mysterious woman. After retelling the story to Stella, he watches
through a telephoto lens as Thorwald cleans and wraps a saw and butcher knife in
newspaper. When Lisa arrives, they watch Thorwald enter his apartment carrying
rope and walks into the bedroom. While Jeffries and Lisa argue about the probability
of murder, the salesman ties a large trunk in the bedroom, which deeply interests
Tom Doyle (Wendell Corey), Jeffs detective friend, comes over and looks
into Thorwalds apartment through binoculars and, through coercing, agrees to
investigate. That night, Tom informs Jeffries that Mrs. Thorwald left on a train the
previous morning and that there were witnesses. Later, Jeffries watches Thorwald
pack a suitcase and talk on the telephone while he goes through his wifes handbag.
Lisa has difficulty understanding why Mrs. Thorwald would leave without her
handbag and jewelry.
Later, as Lisa poses in lingerie for Jeffries, they hear a scream in the
courtyard. The neighbors dog lies dead in Thorwalds garden as the owner cries out

to her uncaring neighbors. The only neighbor not to listen to her is Thorwald. In his
darkened apartment, a cigarette glows.
The next day, Jeffries prints a note reading WHAT HAVE YOU DONE
WITH HER?, which Lisa slides under Thorwalds door. When she returns, almost
caught, Jeffries phones Thorwald, asks if he received the note, and tells him to go to
the Albert Bar. When Thorwald leaves, Lisa and Stella enter the courtyard. Stella
digs in the garden and Lisa climbs into Thorwalds apartment. Jeffries, distracted by
Miss Lonelyheartss suicide attempt, does not see Thorwald return. When the police
arrive to rescue Lisa from Thorwalds attack, Lisa signals to Jeffries that she is
wearing Mrs. Thorwalds wedding ring. Thorwald notices her finger movement and
makes eye contact with Jeffries across the courtyard.
Thorwald again glances toward Jeffries and leaves his apartment. Jeffries is
suddenly frightened by a loud noise and watches the light crack under is door.
Thorwald enters and calmly asks Jeffries what he wants from him. Thorwald moves
toward him and Jeffries continuously blinds him with the flash. Thorwald lunges at
Jeffries and pushes him through the open window, but his fall is cushioned by two
detectives. The police arrest Thorwald.
In the final scene, Lisa, attempting to change herself to accommodate
Jeffriess interests, reads a book about the Himalayas, but substitutes it for Harper's
Bazaar when she notices that he, now in two leg casts, sleeps in his wheelchair.

Before attempting a textual analysis of interpretation and mastery, it is crucial
to understand the mechanics of the cinematic technology utilized in the filming of
Rear Window. John Beltons and David Atkinsons technical readings of the film
demonstrate the control Hitchcock held over its production.2 The lighting board and
sound equipment were constructed behind the camera on the set of Jeffriess
apartment. Hitchcock directed the actors across the courtyard from the spot behind
the camera by speaking through a short wave radio whose flesh-colored receivers
attached to the actorss costumes. Because direction took place from behind the
pivotal point of the camera, we can deduce by analyzing the films narrative space
that the central location of the camera reinforces the centrality of Jeffriess apartment
and of the textual and cinematic subjects. However, because of the actual lack of
mastery Hitchcock held over the film and spectatorial response, the language of the
apparatus actually decenters or repositions the protagonist and the spectator.
The apparatus activates the subject through interpretation by addressing desire
and fantasy, which bind to the characters on the screen through primary cinematic
identification. Psychoanalytically, the cinema adapts the spectator to the unconscious
systems of fantasy and desire based on libidinal structures. However, as I have
explained above, fantasy acts as the mise-en-scene or frame of desire rather than as

the object of desire. Likewise, the active fulfillment of fantasies leaves the spectator
in a state of pleasure through the gratification of desires.
Although theories of the apparatus state that the technology continuously
structures, restructures, and positions the spectator (and in this case the central
character as well) as it acknowledges and satisfies spectatorial desire, the monolithic
status of apparatus theory actually overlooks the ways in which textual and cinematic
strategies reposition the spectator beyond the gaze of the monocular lens. For
example, following the credit sequence of Rear Window, the camera wanders through
Jeffriess open window to examine the courtyard but positions the spectator
specifically in his apartment as the accessory to the protagonists mission of exposing
Thorwalds crime. We can argue, then, that the spectator enters the diegesis as
passively as the sleeping Jeffries and without choice: the apparatus and cinematic
space do not permit the spectator to move, which introduces the spectators lack of
mastery. However, the wandering camera becomes a more conspicuous presence in
the film as it calls attention to itself and to cinematic direction as much as to the
pictures in its frame. The strength of auteuristic mastery becomes apparent even
while the opening credits roll. At the same time, although the wandering camera
directs the spectators line of sight, we must remember, first, that the auteur still does
not dictate absolute meaning, and, second, that the wandering camera implicates the
spectator into the film but infinitely fragments the textual cues.

While the wandering camera does in fact force the spectator to assume the
point of view of the apparatus, we can argue that the apparatus perpetuates the
spectators unauthorized voyeuristic drive, the intense exertion of interpretive
mastery.3 The apparatus as the cinematic agent permits (almost forces) the spectator
to become familiar with Jeffries before the crux of the narrative begins. After the
camera roams through the courtyard, it offers a close-up of the sleeping (and possibly
dreaming) protagonist, closer than the view of the neighbors, near enough to spot a
trail of perspiration on his temple. The camera then wanders through his apartment
and purposefully addresses significant details: the cast on his broken leg, the
shattered camera, the photographs of racetrack destruction, the exposed image of Lisa
followed by her photograph on a magazine cover. While the spectator begins to learn
of the protagonists background as a photographer, the apparatus reinforces a strong
identification with him, for each detail in the apartment signifies fragmentation of
spectatorial abilities.
The wandering camera appears several times during the film, each while
Jeffries sleeps or is preoccupied. The cinematic device places the spectator moreso
than Jeffries in a position of empowerment. As indicated earlier, the wandering
camera grants the spectator the ability to notice and interpret textual cues not
available to the protagonist, which reinforces the spectators sense of control.
Furthermore, the same vehicle that disguises textual mastery reinforces that power by

calling attention to enigmatic objects or situations unassociated with the point of view
of the protagonist.
The point of view shot presents problems in film studies because it is based
on exposure to character knowledge and perspective. According to Bordwell and
Thompson, the term point of view is ambiguous because it is based on the auteurs
divulgence of and the spectators identification with a characters range or depth of
knowledge4 In other words, Bordwell and Thompson argue that the point of view
shot enables a strong identification with the characters, an identification that
encounters the narrative process psychoanalytically as the phantasy experience
located within the Freudian and Metzian primal scene. Furthermore, they argue that
the point of view shot anchors the spectator as the second subject of the gaze, which
promotes identification with the off-screen character, the absent other. But we must
remember that the child, the analogous spectator, remains decentered during the
Mirror Phase. The point of view shot constructs the spectators awareness of space
and time by shuffling fragmented images into a deceptively complete and significant
The majority of images caught by the wandering camera is not significant
specifically to the films murder plot or is necessary for the interpretation of bizarre
events in the apartment across the courtyard (e.g., Miss Torso stretching while
preparing breakfast, the couple waking on the fire escape, the untalented artist). The

apparatus, however, stealthily follows Thorwald, who leaves his apartment with a
mysterious dark woman after his wifes apparent murder. Because the sleeping
protagonist is not exposed to this odd bit of information, to this curious appearance,
he must continue to speculate before Doyle reveals the testimony of witnesses, that
the woman is in fact Mrs. Thorwald. As in The Lodger, the spectator gathers
information only indirectly, for the witnesses are never present to address the
At the same time, the apparatus reveals only the visual and allows the
spectator, like Jeffries, the ability only to surmise. The spectator unequivocally spots
Thorwald with a woman but not necessarily with his wife. We do not make this
assertion because of Jeffriess speculations about Thorwalds nocturnal excursions to
hide pieces of his wifes body, but because of the significance of off-screen sound, a
womans disembodied scream in the night shortly preceding the presence of
Thorwalds guest, which signifies Mrs. Thorwalds murder. Interestingly, Jeffries
sleeps during the nocturnal scream as well. He suspects murder based only on Mrs.
Thorwalds absence and Mr. Thorwalds strange behavior the next day.
The spectator suspects to possess more knowledge than Jeffries does because
the camera has exhibited authority over the film and chosen, so to speak, to disclose
an additional yet enigmatic piece of information or evidence. Moreover, George
Toles argues persuasively that visual stimulation observed only by the spectator

heightens significance and suspicion.5 Because Jeffries does not hear the scream or
see the mysterious woman, the spectator deduces that she must hold a certain .
significance, particularly because her face or identity is hidden, for we know what
Mrs. Thorwald looks like. In fact, by presenting her to the spectator alone, the
camera has broken a classical cinematic convention by presenting the narrative
through the point of view or field of knowledge of other than that of the films
The building of suspense also involves providing the spectator with
knowledge that implies textual mastery. Not only does the spectators gaze in
relation to the wandering camera evoke suspense by objectifying the mysterious
woman, which provides the spectator with more knowledge than the protagonist and
therefore more apparent control over the meaning of the text. More significantly, the
mere knowledge of the stain or the mysterious object that induces suspense (the
strangled dog in the courtyard, the burning cigarette in Thorwalds dark apartment,
the tied trunk, and Mrs. Thorwalds wedding ring and handbag on the bedpost)
reminds the spectator that a murder may have been committed. The characters
experience the same degree of suspense as and thus identify with the spectator
through exposure to these elements, unlike the bus passengers in Sabotage (1936),
who remain unaware of Stevies bomb, which builds suspense solely in the spectator.

Interpretation of the text based on the obscurity of the stain (or the
MacGuffin, as coined by Hitchcock6) greatly suspends spectatorial mastery although
the interpretive process continues, for we are essentially watching a murder mystery.
Thomas Leitch argues persuasively that Hitchcocks imputations characteristically
involve the audience more deeply in the film narrative by forcing them to resolve a
puzzling or ambiguous situation through their own interpretive act (316). Likewise,
Jeffries plays the judge and critic within the film by finding evidence and drawing
conclusions but only through unmitigated perspective lacking proof. Although his
suspicions are correct, neither he nor the spectator completely realizes this until
report of Thorwalds confession, for Thorwald, like the Avenger, never admits his
guilt to the spectator. The narrative, although tightly structured, remains
problematic, and the spectators sense of mastery continually diminishes, for the
spectator has not captured the murderer. To retain absolute mastery, Thorwald, like
the Avenger, must directly disclose his guilt. Both films, however, forbid the direct
release of information, and the spectator remains decentered from the narrative.
Interestingly, from an alternative perspective, we often find that the
spectatorial gaze and Jeffriess gaze often correspond with that of Lisa and Stella. On
the level of murder and suspense, the apparatus diversifies the collective gaze and
demonstrates that the film does not fall strictly on the monolithic interpretive power
of the male gaze, for the interpretation of events in Thorwalds apartment becomes

distinguished between male and female perspectives. Jeffries, Lisa, and Stella agree
that Thorwald hid his wifes dismembered corpse in the trunk, although the women
refuse to acknowledge Jeffriess earlier observation that Thorwalds knife and saw
collection, paired with his mysterious nocturnal excursions, signifies her death and
dismemberment. The certain female presumption of Thorwalds guilt is based
primarily on Lisas first gaze at the murder site, the apparently insignificant view of
the stain, of a .man typing rope around a trunk.
While offering applicable and valid arguments regarding the subject/object
relationship that falls onto the dominant male spectator and the passive female object,
early feminist readings of Rear Window become less convincing when the spectator
understands the identity of the primary object of the gaze. As I discussed earlier,
early feminist readings of spectatorship insist that the male spectator, in the audience
and in the film, controls the female body as a text in the creation of meaning. But the
gendered gaze in Rear Window more forcefullyor at least more consistently
portrays the male as the object of the male gaze and of the female gaze.
Much feminist criticism of Rear Window addresses Jeffries as the voyeur and
Lisa as the object of the male gaze. For example, Mulvey argues that woman
becomes subjected to the male gaze and to the male will. Likewise, Tania Modleski
argues that the film parables the dangers involved for women who become invested
in the male quest for interpretation and mastery.7 Conversely, Robert Stam and

Roberta Pearson persuasively assert that the film deconstructs voyeurism and
identification that operate in classical Hollywood cinema even while exploiting the
structures that support them.8 Notably, Lisa is in fact the primary focus of Jeffriess
gaze inside his apartment, materializing as the image of a male erotic fantasy,
although fraught with frustration at Jeffriess sexual ambivalence. But Lars
Thorwald, the male neighbor, becomes the primary focus of Jeffriess gaze, Lisas
gaze, and Stellas gaze, the spectacle across the border of the metacinematic window.
The gaze associated with the male and female protagonists of Rear Window,
with the exception of Doyles overtly wolfish gaze at and Jeffriess occasional glance
at Miss Torso, does not specifically address sexual objectification and dominance.
Instead, the male and female gaze from the site of the apparatus invokes the desire to
interpret the clues that lead to solving Mrs. Thorwalds murder. Like the fragmented
cinematic spectator, the protagonists gaze across the metacinematic courtyard in
attempt to interpret the text, that of Thorwalds actions, to appease their curiosity.
Likewise, by physically transgressing the courtyard, Lisa seeks to interpret the text of
Thorwalds apartment. Interestingly, because Jeffries remains the primary subject of
the gaze with the spectator participating in his view, Lisa begins to gain more
mastery through direct access, through delving directly into Thorwalds text.
Furthermore, Thorwald reveals himself as a text when he asks Jeffries What do you
want from me? Tell me what you want! Thorwald himself requires interpretation.

As an interesting shift in power, Thorwald becomes the subject of the gaze
and induces the disintegration of spectatorial objectification. When Thorwalds
murderous gaze meets that of Jeffries, it meets that of the spectator as well and
violates the subjectivity of spectatorship. The spectator has become cinematically
objectified, which defines the narrative space within the film as intertwined rather
than segregated, as indicated in The Lodger through continuous spectatorial
subjectification and objectification. Jeffries and the cinematic spectator surrender
their mastery of interpretation to the throes of anxiety. When Jeffries extinguishes
the lights in his apartment to conceal himself, he more directly assumes the role of
the films audience as defined by the primal scene. However, because the protagonist
and the spectators have unwillingly surrendered isolation to discovery and
objectification, Thorwald transgresses the cinematic boundary and attacks Jeffries by
throwing him through his window, through his metacinematic screen. Jeffriess
narrative creation, a makeshift Frankensteins monster (suggested also by Thorwalds
large size, strength, and murderous actions), comes to destroy his creator. Jeffriess
already broken body, like that of Mrs. Thorwald, becomes more fragmented by his
own text.
Throughout the film, while Jeffries inobtrusively observes Thorwalds actions
under the premise to remain unnoticed, the apparatus ascribes the blatant desire for
self-ob]ectification to women through Lisa, who wishes to become the sexual object

of Jeffriess gaze as she alluringly reveals to him a preview of coming attractions in
the form of her translucent lingerie. Jeffries, however, blatantly exhibits resistance,
which arguably becomes the lay sign of his sickness and fear of mature sexuality, for
he finds Lisa to be the ideal woman, and the original viewing audience finds Grace
Kelly to be the American ideal. However, it stands that neither Jeffries nor the
spectator remains interested in Lisas sexual prowess: we would rather master the
villain than the heroine. Lisa becomes a valued object of Jeffriess gaze not by
endangering her life to explore Thorwalds apartment, which, according to Mulvey,
positions her as the object of the male gaze. Instead, as Modleski argues, Lisa
becomes significant to Jeffries only when she begins to agree with his interpretation
of the murder, which grants the omniscience of the male gaze, but Lisa draws her
conclusions from evidence discerned through the female perspective. Lisa, like
Jeffries, has assumed interpretive abilities on a different level than her immobile
beloved while attempting to become objectified herself. However, the fragmented
evidence she attempts to piece together is based first on the mere roping of a trunk
and second on Mrs. Thorwalds abandoned jewelry and handbag, neither of which
points to murder as strongly as might the knife and saw collection, signs of
fragmentation and decomposition themselves.
Lisas entrance into the film exposes the spectatorial elements of fantasy and
desire through Jeffriess arousal from sleep, which leads to his subsequent sexual

arousal. Her approach into the camera and subsequent kiss acknowledge the
spectator who brought her to life from the bits of celluloid through viewing the film,
as if mastering her body. The following slow motion profile shot of the kiss sets
itself not within the illusion of cinematic reality but in the broken mise-en-scene of
the dream fantasy, or, as Robert J. Benton suggests, dismembered like Mrs.
Thorwalds body.9 Jeffriess arousal correlates with his voyeuristic tendencies, an
active event involving mind and body in which the protagonist becomes dangerously
too involved. He combines the reality of the situation with the unprecedented fantasy
of murder, a fantasy he does not understand until he endangers Lisas life, which
forces him to recognize his helplessness and distance from the murderous text.
Metz might speculate that Jeffries, like the classical film spectator, sits with a
glowing, God-like omniscience, positioned behind his telephoto lens, continually
transfixed in the shadows of his apartment, like the spectator in the darkness of the
theatre, waiting under suspense and suspicion that Thorwald will in fact reveal a clue
to the murder of his wife.10 While Jeffries sits with an active mind and the visual
stimulation of the apparatus, he remains the castrated or fragmented male, trapped in
his wheelchair, sexually ambivalent aside from sleeping with his hand resting on his
inner thigh with implied masturbatory intentions and gripping the symbolic phallus of
the lens. His own fragmentation and sexual ambivalence fixate the immobile
protagonist within the Mirror Phase, the site of sexual phantasies extending from a

decentered mind. Jeffries gains knowledge of the murder only through the mechanics
of the apparatus, through the psychoanalytic strength of the phallus, which magnifies
the imaginary omniscience of the naked male gaze. Jeffriess behavior and condition
signify that of the developing infant: helpless, often asleep, weak sexual drive. He
also possesses a degree of mastery through the lens, which delivers only an
incomplete, fragmented look into Thorwalds apartment, which permits only
spectatorial interpretation on part of himself and the spectator. Furthermore, he gains
knowledge only through the power of mobility of Lisa and Stella, for without them,
Thorwald would not have confronted Jeffries and the murder would have remained
Jeffriess only defense against Thorwald falls onto blinding his attacker,
forcefully removing the power of his gaze, illustrated cinematically through the point
of view of the murderer and the red flash of light on the screen that temporarily
blinds Thorwald and the spectator. Thorwalds physical transgression transforms him
from cinematic text to reality, but the flashing red light on the apparatus temporarily
grants Jeffries the power merely to distract his attacker. As a result, the spectator
begins to identify with Thorwalds blindness and homicidal tendencies, for shifting
identification further dismembers the spectator, as in The Lodger.
Jeffriess subsequent fall through the window, through the frame of the films
space, shatters the cinematic representation of external narrative space and places him

in a second cast, which positions him again as a motionless spectator, vacantly
stationed behind the apparatus of his telephoto lens. Jeffries, like the actual film
spectator, permits the concept of cinematic fantasy to loom over him through the
course of the narrative through the process of direction influenced by Thorwalds
actions. Toles suggests that The more viewers surrender to this fantasy of control
[then] the more completely, and unconsciously, they can be manipulated themselves
(Allegory 226). The result is loss of interpretive of mastery to the sadistic textual
An additional contributor to Jeffriess loss of power is Lisas transgression
into the metacinematic realm signified by Thorwalds apartment. When Thorwald
attacks her, Jeffries uncomfortably squirms in his wheelchair wishing to help her (but
not, as Mulvey argues, objectifying her). Hitchcock acknowledges the passivity of
the films spectator by reinforcing the illusion of helplessness, of submitting to the
mastery of the text. Cinematic reality separates itself from the spectators awareness
of reality. Furthermore, the violence invoked in this scene expounds upon Lisas
identification with Mrs. Thorwald and the significance of the fragmented female
body. Notedly, Jeffries and Lisa surrender their interpretive mastery to the physical.
Modleski argues at this point that Jeffries and the male spectator must identify
with Lisa during her helplessness and again during his own victimization to male
violence. Problems occur, however, when Modleski argues that Jeffries desires

Lisas dismemberment as he does with all women, which forces him to identify with
Thorwald, as he does only for a brief moment when he contemplates the
laboriousness of dismembering a human body. Furthermore, Renato Almansi argues
that this scene is indicative of the primal scene." While Almansis observation may
definitely be argued, it is necessary to note the scenes sadistic overtones. As
indicated previously, Freud argues that the primal scene emphasizes a sadistic Father.
Metz, however, emphasizes the isolation of the subject over the sadism of the
spectacle. In this case, Jeffriess isolation takes prominence to Thorwalds sadism,
for Thorwald, like Jeffries, signifies not the Oedipal father but the castrated male
through his wifes abuse.
On another level, Modleski argues that the males identification with the
imperiled female character during moments of suspense implies masochistic
tendencies in all spectators. Based on psychoanalytic theories of masochism,
Modleski correctly asserts that Jeffries, trapped on his side of the metacinematic
barrier, exhibits the phenomenon by identifying with the passive figure of Lisa. But
the problem occurs when the spectator attempts to understand Jeffriess actual
motives. As indicated in my reading of The Lodger, Gutheys analysis expounds
upon the spectators desire to punish Daisy. In Rear Window, we must examine the
same possibility regarding Lisa. Essentially, does Jeffries unconsciously wish for

Lisas dismemberment, and does he want Lisa to escape from Thorwald so he can
punish her himself?
The sadistic dismemberment of the female body in Hitchcocks films and the
male spectators response to the violence proves to be an interesting issue. Feminist
readings of misogyny at work in Hitchcocks films address the directors ambivalence
rather than an obvious hatred toward women. At the same time, the male spectator
who watches the violence and sympathizes with the womans plight, as Jeffries does
toward Lisas attack, may begin to experience the sadistic impulses that seek to
counter the sympathy. Psychoanalysis indicates that Jeffries, as a heterosexual and
symbolically castrated male, desires Lisa as a fetish or, more likely, based on his
sexually apathetic behavior, as a victim, like Mrs. Thorwald, but this is not the case.
Mrs. Thorwald becomes significant as an apparent absence, as an imprint that
reminds the spectator of her existence although she remains unseen. While we can
make the same argument about Mrs. Verlocs reoccurring hallucination of Stevie
after his death in Sabotage, the spectator struggles with Rear Window on a more
sublime level while attempting to interpret and master the power of Mrs. Thorwalds
absence. Thorwald has scattered the various pieces of her body, mostly into the river
with one particular piece, without apparent reason, into the flower bed. The spectator
may infer that the buried appendage is her head, only because Thorwald exhumed it
and hid it in a hatbox. However, Robert Benton, a proponent of psychoanalytic