Be that as it may, Jackie’s rear-window ethics at first seem downright benevolent. Maybe it’s partly because she’s female and comes across as maternal. Maybe it’s because, unlike the male protagonists in the three other movies, she doesn’t come from a position of powerlessness. In fact, she’s rather godlike. Not only is she all-seeing, she’s nearly omnipotent: one quick call and a squad car instantly responds to her report of someone in trouble. Call her Big Sister.
Nonetheless, something is missing from her life. Actually, everything is. She has no family to speak of and her social life consists of a brief trysts in a van with a fellow officer. She spends all of her time alone in a room, not even in her own home, surrounded by hundreds of images of the world, from which she is aloof and alienated. Unlike Terry, she doesn’t even have the background buzz of deluded foreign policy — the TV screens broadcast only images of back alleys, dismal streets, and godforsaken buildings — to entertain her.
But she does have a past, and one day she spots someone she thinks she knows on a monitor. It’s Clyde (Tony Curran), a red-haired lout recently released from prison. He’s the end product of a society that isolates the lumpen misfits, the aliens, the unacceptable others, in places like Red Road and puts people like Jackie in charge of watching them.
Just the kind of neighbor one might focus all one’s rage on. As in the other films, Jackie’s initial interest in her suspect becomes obsessive. She painstakingly monitors Clyde, tails him on the street, follows him into cafés and pubs, and flirts with him at a party. He doesn’t recognize her and it seems like she might have cast him in a leading role in some paranoid delusion.
Until she, too, crosses the line between voyeurism and involvement in a way that is shocking and heart-rending. Hitchcock might have been appalled, but I think he would have approved. In her own self-destructive but life-affirming way, Jackie restores the notion of rear-window ethics to its ancient formulation: love your neighbor as you love yourself.
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Peter Keough's Outside the Frame blog: http://www.thephoenix.com/outsidetheframe