Today we share the fifth of six pieces of public writing selected for publication from an assignment in ENGL 801 “Graduate Studies in English” — and the second selection from Section A of ENGL 801, taught in Fall 2022 by Cameron Leader-Picone: a piece of public scholarship (700-1,000 words) which tailors an academic paper and its scholarly intervention of 10-12 pages for a general-interest audience.
Read more about the assignment and the first publication, “Signs, Signs, Everywhere…The Hidden Depth of Japanese Signs in Spirited Away” by Ian Lutz (MA ’24), in the post from December 8, and enjoy the subsequent posts: “Can YA Fiction Predict the Future? Political Mimicry in Kiera Cass’s The Selection Series” by Delaney Sullivan (MA ’24), “Secular Nightmares: Mental Health and the Absence of God in Parker Finn’s Smile” by Milena Beliso (MA ’24), and “How to Build a Hopeful Future: Reject Citizenship” by Jordan Dombrowski (MA ’24). Now, on to “Watching and Believing: The #MeToo Movement and Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window in Chloe Okuno’s Watcher” by Sarah Morgan (MA ’24).
— Karin Westman, Associate Professor and Department Head / Instructor for ENGL 801 ZA (Fall 2022)
Note: This post discusses violence against women. The National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma, and Mental Health maintains a list of national resources, should you need help.
What would you do if you felt you were being watched, but you could not provide definitive “proof”?
What if no one believed your concerns?
As Irina tells Julia in Watcher (2022, dir. Chloe Okuno), “The best outcome might be having to live with the uncertainty. Better than getting raped and strangled and dying with the words ‘I told you so’ on your lips. Right?”
In “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Laura Mulvey coined the “male gaze” to refer to a “scopophilic instinct,” or pleasure in looking (240). Mulvey applies this term to the depiction of women in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), which Chloe Okuno’s Watcher (2022) pays homage to.
However, instead of having the protagonist as the watcher like in Rear Window, Okuno inverts the roles. Watcher’s protagonist, Julia (Maika Monroe), is instead watched.
Julia believes that her neighbor is constantly looking into her apartment window from his window; she also thinks he is stalking her outside of the apartment building. She is under the constant threat of the male gaze and male violence. As a thriller film, Watcher forces its viewers to confront the horrors of violence against women, which echoes chants propagated by the #MeToo movement, specifically believing women. The film also borrows themes from its predecessor, Rear Window, by emphasizing cinematic looking and the gaze. The synthesis of these themes in Watcher compels viewers to face the reality of male violence against women.
While Julia is never sexually assaulted in Watcher, she is a victim of male violence. Of the many hashtags that circulated during #MeToo, #BelieveWomen was one of the most popular. Susan Faludi writes about believing women in her New York Times article “‘Believe All Women’ is a Right-Wing Trap.” She reminds readers why #BelieveWomen is so important within the context of the fight against sexual violence. She writes, “For to be disbelieved has consequences, as women have witnessed, time out of mind … The accounts of not being believed are too legion to list, and the list grows longer” (Faludi). Faludi describes many specific cases, including a stalking incident, in which women who were not believed by authority figures went on to be murdered by those they accused of the violence. In Watcher, when Julia begs her husband Francis (Karl Glusman) and the police to believe that her neighbor is watching and stalking her, they assure her that she is simply paranoid. Even after Julia confirms that the man in the window is indeed watching her by waving to him and receiving a wave in response, Francis does not witness this and continues to gaslight her into thinking that she is not truly in danger. When Francis says to Julia, “Please, just tell me what you want me to do,” Julia tearfully screams, “I want you to fucking believe me!” (Watcher 48:51-48:55).
During the climax of the film, Julia (and, by extension, the audience) discovers that the Watcher has been stalking her when he attacks her in the apartment of her neighbor Irina (Madalina Anea). He admits to being the Spider, a serial killer who has recently committed a string of gruesome murders of local women, before he cuts Julia’s throat to prevent her from screaming for help. While Julia survives this attack, many women (as evidenced by Faludi’s article) have not lived through similar violence, including Irina, the Spider’s most recent victim.
If authority figures do not believe women, it can be a death sentence. The fear of violence Julia has suffered from comes to fruition in the film’s climax. Director Chloe Okuno includes this violence as a way to force the audience to confront the brutal reality that women face.
As it foregrounds #MeToo themes, Watcher not only borrows Rear Window’s trope of watching but also borrows its narrative structure. However, a significant difference between these films lies within the gaze and looking of the protagonists. In Rear Window, the gaze of L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart), known as Jeff, is a voyeuristic one. Jeff finds pleasure in looking. This is not the case for Julia, who looks as a way to survive. There is no pleasure in her gaze.
Jeff and Lisa (Grace Kelly) want to solve Mrs. Thorwald’s murder to prove that their suspicions about Thorwald (Raymond Burr) are correct. They watch to learn. Julia watches to learn, too, in order to confirm that the Watcher is also stalking her, but solving this mystery is not a pleasurable game for her. She occupies the role as a watcher when she follows her stalker around the city, using the information she learns to protect herself. Jeff watches Thorwald from his window and is only in danger when Thorwald discovers his voyeurism in the film’s climax. Julia is always in danger because the Watcher is a violent man who has the upper hand.
Watcher may be inspired by Rear Window, but Okuno flips the characters’ roles to create a post-#MeToo era film and to emphasize female anxiety, something that Hitchcock does not foreground in Rear Window. Okuno uses thriller conventions established by Hitchcock and updates them to demonstrate how scary it is for women to be watched under the constant threat of violence. The horrors of violence are not only fictional but are very much real.
By aligning viewers with Julia’s fearful female gaze and centering the importance of believing women within the narrative, Okuno requires the audience to empathize with Julia’s plight and draws attention to the reality of men’s violence against women.
Faludi, Susan. “‘Believe All Women’ Is a Right-Wing Trap.” The New York Times,
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/18/opinion/tara-reade-believe-all-women.html. Accessed 15 Nov. 2022.
Hitchcock, Alfred, director. Rear Window. Paramount Pictures, 1954.
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Critical Theory: A Reader for
Literary and Cultural Studies, edited by Robert Dale Parker, Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 231-241.
Okuno, Chloe, director. Watcher. IFC Midnight, 2022
— Sarah Morgan (MA ’24)