You’re a voyeur. You know you are; it’s in your essence, and you can’t make anything to stop it. We all have that need to look and stare at others. Have you ever been on the subway, the bus, a restaurant, or whatever public space, and you notice someone who catches your attention? You observe them for a while, every movement, every gesture, and after a while, you wonder what does that person have that draws your attention? Then that person notices your gaze and your eyes collide. You turn again and they’re looking at you all puzzled. You feel embarrassed, but why should you? You’re not doing anything wrong, you just let your mind wander a bit too much…It happens to all of us, and that’s because we all have that curiosity or impulse to observe what’s around us. If you still don’t believe me, think of the most obvious way you become the ultimate voyeur, yes, you guessed it, cinema.
For a couple of hours, we’re presented with the intimate life of characters, and film exhibits it to us in an open and direct way, which makes us into witnesses of events we haven’t been asked to take part of. Within this voluntary spectacle lies the voyeuristic nature of cinema and human beings.
We get satisfaction from being allowed to peep into a stranger’s life; it becomes a privilege almost. Thus, movies with this particular subject or theme are often called meta-texts, because we take the place of the voyeur, who uses cameras or other means to observe their prey. We in turn, use film to spy on others and silently observe the intimate lives of the characters being portrayed.
Often described in psychological terms as a “philia” where people gain pleasure and sexual satisfaction from spying on others during moments of intimacy. If we go to the root of the word, which comes from the French voyeur, we’ll see it literally means “one who looks.” When we talk about voyeurism in general, we refer to the act of observing others without their knowledge. Another important fact is that, generally, the observer isn’t necessarily connected to their subject, which makes it even more invasive. So, if you want to unleash your inner voyeur, here are seven movies that will definitely leave you asking yourself, “who is watching me?”
American Beauty (1999) Dir. Sam Mendes
The highly acclaimed film tells the story of an apparently common suburban family with an apparently common life or, at least until the father Lester becomes infatuated with his daughter’s cheerleader friend. But, no, in terms of voyeurism, we’re not precisely talking about Lester’s fantasies with the teenager. Voyeurism in the film can be found in the neighbor who lives crossing the street, Rick, a young kid who enjoys secretly filming other’s lives.
Rear Window (1954) Dir. Alfred Hitchcock
As it happens with Hitchcock’s films, they became ultimate classics; however, in this case, we can assure you that Rear Window has become not only the ultimate voyeuristic film, but also an extraordinary cinematic example of how cinema works and the role it plays in society. Jeff Jeffries, a professional photographer, gets injured while working and has his leg immobilized. Forced to rest in his apartment, he distracts himself by spying on his neighbors. One day he notices that something’s wrong in one of the apartments and has strong suspicions that a man has murdered a woman. This will turn his apparently harmless voyeurism into an obsession.
One Hour Photo (2002) Dir. Mark Romanek
Seymour Parrish, an apparently regular middle-aged photograph technician has a secret and quite unsettling obsession with a young married couple and their child, some of his most regular customers. However, they ignore that their innocent family photographs are being obsessively watched, studied, and fantasized by the man who develops their films. We no longer have to develop our pictures anymore, but it makes you wonder who watches your photographs on social media and with what end.
The Truman Show (1998) Dir. Peter Weir
Imagine all your life is being observed by everybody in the world. Every movement and situation, even the most private aspects of your life, become an entertainment you don’t know about. That’s what happens to Truman Burbank, who unknowingly lives inside a reality show set and lives surrounded by hidden cameras and actors who pretend to live in a fake town that has been built for people’s amusement. It’s the perfect analogy of our voyeuristic and curious nature.
Blow-Up (1966) Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni
Thomas, a photographer who likes capturing artistic pictures of people on the streets, goes on one of his regular outings at a park to shoot the surroundings. Suddenly, he spots a couple and takes pictures of them, to which the woman notices and convinces him of selling the photographs to her. However, he keeps the film and develops it only to discover that he has documented a crime in his own camera. Naturally, more than developing an image, he develops an obsession and paranoia that unleashes his most voyeuristic side.
Peeping Tom (1960) Dir. Michael Powell
We all become peeping toms at some point in our life. This thriller presents the life of Mark Lewis, a creepy man who deceives women by telling them he’s a professional filmmaker; however, the camera he uses to convince them becomes the main weapon to drag his victims to a deathly end. Moreover, his camera becomes the window through which he intrusively spies on women before actually going after them.
Blue Velvet (1986) Dir. David Lynch
As with many of his films, creepy and disturbing are two adjectives that don’t really manage to describe his craft. In this film, Lynch presents Jeffrey’s relationship with Sandy, when he has to go back home to look after his father who has suffered a stroke. Back home, he discovers a human ear near his father’s hospital, which drags him to investigate what has happened. Soon, his curiosity turns into an obsession that drags him into a perverse situation between a psychopath and a singer.
Voyeurism touches many artist disciplines, don’t believe me? Then check out these photographic series:
The Story Of The Man Who Spied On Hundreds of Sexual Encounters
The Erotic Photography Project That Will Awaken Your Inner Voyeur