Like Jeff, Kale chafes under parental-like authority, half of which is dispatched before the opening titles unfold, as dad gets squashed in a car accident. Unrestrained by the paternal superego Kale becomes a behavior problem, indulging in the kind of misdirected anger that, in extreme instances, results in appalling body counts on high-school and college campuses. Here, though, he merely pops his Spanish teacher in the eye. A judge sentences him to home arrest, and, like Jeff with his cast, Kale gets fitted with an ankle bracelet.
Like Jeff, too, Kale just wants to have fun, engaging in vicarious thrills without responsibility or consequences. But where, in the ’50s, Jeff had to actually leave the house to experience things directly, today’s hedonists have no such limitations, thanks to technological advances that have made any pleasure virtually accessible and no further away than a keyboard or screen. In short, Kale can have near instant gratification, but at the expense of any sense of objective reality. This fosters a solipsistic breeding ground for delusion and wish-fulfilling fantasy exceeding that of Jeff’s comparatively realistic paranoia.
Nonetheless, Kale’s sentence at first seems like a couch potato’s dream come true: home alone with unlimited access to cable, the Internet, the whole voyeuristic spectrum. But then mom (Carrie-Anne Moss), in a scene with palpably Freudian reverberations, takes a huge set of shears and snips the cord connecting Kale with the electronic universe. What to do? What generations of idle, hormonal youths have always done: spy on the neighbors. “Reality TV without the TV,” as Kale puts it. But not without the stereotypes and preconceptions that reality TV and other pop-cultural standbys — such as teen-sex comedies or slasher films, and even films like Disturbia — have imprinted on his mind. So when Kale turns his attention to Mr. Turner (David Morse), a middle-aged mystery man who lives next door by himself and perpetually mows his lawn, Kale inevitably summons images from Hostel and Saw II along with projections of his own Oedipal conflicts (could his mother really be interested in going out with that guy?). Throw in his sexual repression, misogyny, and resentment of authority, his paranoid megalomania and delusions of persecution, and Mr. Turner embodies his own fantasy of being a serial killer with a basement full of mummified female mementoes (shades of Psycho).
Or is it a fantasy? I’ll never tell. The point is that, however crudely, Disturbia updates and applies Hitchcock’s rear-window ethics to the dilemmas of the post-9/11, Columbine, and Virginia Tech era. Are we being good citizens by spying on our neighbors because they might be killers? Or are the killers only shadows of our own dark impulses, which we project on our neighbors?
The Janus face of terror
As the title suggests, the question of what constitutes a good citizen is at the heart of Jeff Renfroe’s Civic Duty, a Canadian import that puts Rear Window’s paranoia, voyeurism, and repression overtly in the context of the “war against terror.”
At first glance Terry Allen (Peter Krause) looks like he might be a terrorist: his face is a mask, his eyes are steely and dead, and he’s carrying an ominous briefcase in a crowded elevator. Turns out that he’s just one of hundreds of people laid off every day in America by corporations, just one more accountant who now has to send out résumés.