The Woman in the Window Thematic Analysis
Descripción: Thematic Analysis on Fritz Lang's film, The Woman in the Window...
The Woman in the Window Thematic Analysis Many of Lang’s film has a reoccurring theme—destiny. The film The Woman in the Window is no exception. While watching Lang’s films, the viewers are naturally inclined to ask themselves, are our lives bounded by fate or do we have the freedom and ability to make decisions? Suppose we do have free will, how can we exercise it? Lang seems to have directed his film The Woman in the Window so that this question could be discussed. While people commonly talk about fate as an abstract power that controls the future of people, Tom Gunning believes that the notion of fate in Lang’s films is based on a rigid cause-and-effect structure, grounded in modern everyday life. He renames this idea of fate as the “Destiny-machine”, which can be described as a vast and elaborate system that society organized as a machine. The following quote elaborates his idea about the Destiny-machine. “Rather than a metaphysical fate, I have associated this network of circumstances with the structures of modern urban life, where every trace can be followed up by the surveillance society.” (289) In this quote, the surveillance society is described as a giant apparatus that reaches into every aspect of human life and social life. People are constantly being watched and their fates are controlled by this so-called Destiny-machine. Surveillance is made possible through scientific and technological advancements. Shaken by the effects of World War I and changed by the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, the general population was fearful of technological advances. While people use technology everyday, the majority does not actually understand how technology works. In The Woman in the Window, it is clear that technological advancement were not
shown in a positive light. Professor Wanley‟s shocked face is repeated shown on camera whenever he discovers that he is suspected of murder. He attempts to cover up the traces of his murder and prevent himself from being caught. However, his police friends are able to, like forensic analysts, scientifically analyze new traces and interpret them so they could construct a picture. While Wanley tries to seize control of the situation, he gradually loses the power to conceal his and Reed‟s identities. While advancements in science and technology are supposed to make peoples‟ lives easier, in this particular case, they only serve as an inconvenience to the protagonist. In the battle between society and Wanley, the society, or Destiny-machine, slowly seizes control of Wanley‟s destiny with machine-like precision. What also remind the audience of the machine-like precision are the clocks that are so prevalent in this film. The men‟s club and Wanley‟s home seem to be constantly echoing with ticking clocks. There is also a noticeable clock towering over Reed‟s apartment, which reminds the audience of the concept of time. Every time a character enters or leaves a room, the time of the event could be recorded. It almost seems that the sequence of events are indexed by time and all the characters are forced to follow a set schedule. The fates of each character seem to be entrapped by a higher power, or as Gunning words it, the Destiny-machine. While the presence of clocks contributes to the bleak and pessimistic atmosphere, the mood that encompasses the feeling of entrapment depicted in the film is also a result of the visual techniques employed in the film. Numerous visual techniques in The Woman in the Window can be attributed to Film Noir. Copjec point out that the main characteristics and visual style of Film Noir are:
… low-key lighting, the use of chiaroscuro effects, strongly marked camera angles, either low or high; jarring and off balance shot composition; tight framing and close-ups that produce a claustrophobic sense of containment. The films are predominantly urban, the action taking place at night and filmed night for night on location, to produce a strong contrast between the enveloping dark and intermittent pools of light; … (126) Each of the described visual elements contributes to the feeling of entrapment that prevails throughout the film. One particular sequence of events that illustrate these visual techniques is when Heidt blackmails Reed and investigates her apartment. (The threepage scenario analysis could be incorporated here.) The stylistics choices Lang made to create this sequence as well as Heidt‟s seemingly unstoppable investigation breed an atmosphere of impending doom. Gunning said that in Lang films, “Large consequences sprouting from minor incidents have always kicked the Destiny-machine into high gear.” (289) In other words, the Destiny-machine will only operate if people continuously make mistakes. The protagonist Professor Wanley made many, albeit small, mistakes that ultimately lead to his inevitable doom. Vorontzov points out that the first mistake he made was when Wanley stepped out of the men‟s club at night to stare at the portrait of the attractive woman. If he didn‟t stop to stare through the window, the attractive woman would not have materialized. The second mistake Wanley made was when he had a flirtatious conversation with the attractive woman. He should have left after having the conversation and went back home, but instead he decided to have a drink at a nearby bar. Wanley, a married man, could have decided to go back home after having a drink, but he
decided instead to follow the attractive woman back home in the middle of the night. One small poor decision led to the next like a domino. Once Wanley commits murder however, it becomes clear that there is no turning back. Even with Wanley‟s good intention to protect Reed‟s and his own livelihood, Wanley‟s inevitable doom seems permanently sealed. One major source of inspiration for Noir filmmakers was German Expressionism. German Expressionism, unlike Impressionism, allowed directors such as Lang to outwardly express their inner emotions concerning the society in which they found themselves. Expressionism is based on the human struggle to make sense of the world around us. In Lang‟s other works such as M and Scarlet Street, there are recurrent images of radiant shop windows. The shop windows are displays of seductive commodity and are thus a representation of forbidden desires. Lang was inspired by these windows shops to create these films. Expressionism allowed him to open a discussion about materialism and the temptation to pursuing forbidden desires. After Wanley suicides, the audience is revealed that the whole story was just a dream. Spencer speculates that the reason the dream ever existed was to create a series of events that would lead to Wanley‟s inevitable doom. In Spencer „s own words, he states, “[Wanley‟s] doom apparently produced a series of circumstances which gradually revealed the potential evil within him, and which necessarily led to the eventual selfdestruction.” When his family leaves to vacation, Wanley is free to pursue attractive women. The reasons why he is afraid to pursue these desires are explain precisely by the sequence of events in the dream. The dream, in essence, could have been a warning of the possible consequences of giving in to the temptation of cheating one‟s significant other.
Although the sequence of events in the dream aren‟t likely to happen, it does show how a man with a respectable bourgeois life could end up becoming a murderer through a series of unlucky circumstances. The sense of inevitability that was consistently perceived throughout the dream allows Wanley to realize how committing small evils may unlock the greater potential evil that is present in everyone; making a small mistake isn‟t much different from making a bigger one. This concept explains why Wanley ran off hysterically when a woman asked him to light her a cigarette. Lang could have decided to kill off the main characters, just as in he did in Scarlet Street. Instead, Lang made a deliberate decision to give Wanley a second chance to live. While his reasoning is unclear, Lang may have thought that the story would have been too defeatist if Wanley were to suicide and never wake up. In one of his interviews, Lang said, “It is important to fight evil in all its forms. It is important to fight even when the outcome is uncertain.” (25) From this quote, we can see that while it may not be immediately apparent what or who is the incarnation of evil, but once the source of evil is identified, Lang believes that people should fight it, regardless of how minor it may be. In a larger sense, Lang may be implying that he believes that free will can be achieved. However, to combat the Destiny-machine and achieve free will, one must wholeheartedly commit to making the right choice, without lingering, detouring or following any side roads towards the fulfillment of free will.
Works Cited Copjec, Joan. Shades of Noir: A Reader. London: Verso, 1993. Print.
Gunning, Tom. The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision and Modernity. London: British Film Institute, 2000. Print. Lang, Fritz, and Barry Keith Grant. Fritz Lang: Interviews. Jackson: University of Mississippi, 2003. Print. Selby, Spencer. "Film Noir of the Week: The Woman in the Window (1944).", 07 July 2007. Web. Vorontzov, Dimitri. "The Woman in the Window, 1944." Dimitri Vorontzov RSS2., 19 Apr. 2011. Web.