Peeping Tom Movie Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

A murderer of women is on the loose in London, terrifying the population. While the police are groping in the dark in their search for the perpetrator, no one has any idea what depths lie behind the inconspicuous Mark Lewis (Karlheinz Böhm), ​​who is responsible for the series of murders. By day he makes a living as a cameraman for a film production company and as a photographer for nude photos that are sold under the counter of a local kiosk. At night he goes looking for new victims with his camera, without which he never leaves the house, and records their agony as best he can. Back in his apartment, he studies the recordings, where he is particularly fascinated by the fear of his victims and cannot let go.

However, his life takes a turn when he meets Helen (Anna Massey), the daughter of a roommate. The young woman understands her neighbor’s passion for film and photography, without of course having any idea what crimes Mark is driving her to commit. The relationship between the two of them deepens more and more until one day Mark notices that the familiar urge to film Helen and do something to her is becoming stronger and stronger.

A scandal and its consequences

Before the British director and screenwriter Michael Powell released Peeping Tom, a film that caused a lot of criticism and scandal, he had earned a respectable reputation in his home country through productions such as The Red Shoes or Error in the Afterlife. Critics were shocked when he presented a film called Peeping Tom that, in their eyes, addressed the desire for violence and perversion, and also starred Karlheinz Böhm, who became famous for the Sissi films. Over the years, the reception of the film, which was once described as a dirty film, has improved significantly and it is considered a pioneer for the thriller genre. Thanks to a new restoration, a collaboration between Studiocanal and BFI, the film shines in new splendor so that today’s viewers can (re)discover Peeping Tom.

One could talk or write for a long time about the influence Powell’s film has on thrillers and horror films. Works like William Lustig’s Maniac could be seen as a modern variant of Powell’s films and even a character like Norman Bates has a lot in common with the killer played by Karlheinz Böhm. However, the effect of Peeping Tom is not captured by its position in film history, because Powell has created a very contemporary portrait of a society that is dominated by images and has a very problematic relationship with them. It’s easy to label someone like Mark as a psychopath, a freak, as many of his colleagues or neighbors do. But Powell forces the audience to take in the perspective of this person who is used to filtering his reality through the camera. Surely Mark would be wandering around central London with an iPhone these days, pursuing the dark urges that have consumed him completely. The search for the fear in the faces of his victims is the search for something real, for a truth, which Mark filters using various effects and runs in an endless loop in his darkroom. He has also become a victim of these images, a lonely man in a dark room.

The eyes of the city

Furthermore, Peeping Tom tells of a society in which observation and staging have become a rule. Powell imposes on us the sometimes unpleasant perspective of his hero and with it the view of a reality in which people base their lives on images and their arrangement. They have become a consumer good, sold under the counter or through a cheesy film that is less about the magic of the images and more about commerce. Karlheinz Böhm as Mark Lewis is someone who stands in between, because on the one hand he contributes more and more to this maelstrom of images, but then again takes on the role of the consumer of the images. He’s not just the man next door from whom you would never have expected something like that. He is one of many who never stand out and who look for an authentic feeling. When Mary tells him about her idea for a children’s book in which the hero captures the world with a magical camera, Mark seems to know that it’s actually about him. The only tragic thing is that the magic has long been gone for him.

The dramaturgy of Peeping Tom outlined above works not only because of the actors, but also (or above all) because of the technical production. Otto Heller’s camerawork in conjunction with the effective use of sound makes some shots uncomfortable, in which we as viewers directly take on the perspective of the protagonist. The approach and execution of the deeds follows a certain dramaturgy and you are drawn into the perspective of a sick person who can no longer stop.

Peeping Tom is a milestone in the thriller and horror genre. Michael Powell has succeeded in making an exciting, dramaturgically exemplary and superbly acted film whose themes are still relevant today. The film may not always be pleasant because of its perspective, but it captures the hero’s dilemma as well as the modern dilemma of a society that is oversaturated with images and therefore feels less.

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