Can good neighbours … become good friends?

The surprising intimacy of The Woman in the Window

In this edition of Scene & Heard, a weekly newsletter where a guest writer reflects on just one scene from a recent Netflix release, Brigid Delaney reflects on the potential for sudden, profound connections with neighbours in The Woman in the Window — streaming now on Netflix.
Scene & Heard is part of Netflix Pause, a publication that’s all about hitting pause to reflect on the latest film and TV. Subscribe now to get three free newsletters in your inbox every week diving into screen culture.
Without further ado, the scene in question…

I’m sure I won’t be the only person watching The Woman in the Window with an extra layer of dread and trauma. The thriller, starring Amy Adams, is a mystery of sorts — but its dankly lit texture, its unreliable booze-soaked narrator, and her isolation and terror of going outside dredge up all sorts of 2020 lockdown vibes.

And I’m sure many would recognise themselves in Amy Adam’s character, Dr Anna Fox, always in a shapeless nightie or pajamas, large (actually very large) glass of red wine in hand, with her couch transformed into a warm cocoon of blankets and pillows, streaming old movies until she passes out.. She is — in the words of a recent viral New York Times piece — “languishing.”

Fox is profoundly isolated for much of the film. This is not just physically (she has agoraphobia and hasn’t left the house in months) but also emotionally. She longs for connection, for people to believe her, or even just accept her. In a couple of key scenes in the film, she finds something close to a true connection. 

In the first 15 minutes of the movie, the radiant, complicated Jane Russell (Julianne Moore) breaches the walls of Fox’s compound. She’s a neighbour who comforts Fox on Halloween after her house is egged by trick or treaters. There is an immediate connection and curiosity between the women. 

The scene is one of small talk but also depth. They talk about motherhood, men, mental health. The women drink together, and there is a complicity there, a lack of judgement which makes you think Fox has finally found someone that might get her

It’s a liminal territory — the territory of neighbour. You don’t get to pick them; they could be quite like you or your polar opposite. They could make your life heaven or hell. You don’t often know until you have a sort of communion with them — letting them into your house, offering them a chair and a drink, and hearing their story. Sometimes, a neighbour becomes something more — growing out of that murky space and towards something sincere.

The scene with Jane Russell stayed with me because it spoke of the potential for sudden intimacy between neighbours — the way that sometimes the relationship can shift from mere proximity or general kindliness to some more profound connection. 

When I lived in Sydney, in a series of flats in the eastern suburbs, I didn’t know my neighbours. It seemed rude to even look at them. 

Australia’s greatest living writer, Helen Garner, described living in an apartment block in Sydney’s Bellevue Hill in her essay ‘Tower Diary’: “I am invisible in this apartment building … My neighbour! I want to be greeted and to greet.”

But Garner’s neighbours would cut their eyes from her when they passed her in the hall. 

And so it was with me. ‘Neighbour’ was a purely physical relationship. They were a person who lived near you. 

I moved to a house in the country in 2016 — and all that changed. A neighbour lived near you, but they also lived in some respects with you. 

The neighbours helped me with the lawns and gave me lifts into town and took my bins out. And in turn, I helped them when I could. 

The scene with Jane Russell stayed with me because it spoke of the potential for sudden intimacy between neighbours — the way that sometimes the relationship can shift from mere proximity or general kindliness to some more profound connection. 

One day I was walking home from the gym and saw an ambulance parked in my drive. One of my neighbours who lived alone had been in a terrible accident and it was uncertain if he would survive it. Another neighbour found him, covered in blood. Yet another neighbour turned up to follow the ambulance to hospital with his pajamas and phone. 

Once the ambulance had left, and the drama of his accident had receded, three different households gathered in my kitchen for a cup of tea. 

Our neighbour’s near-death experience shook us. My neighbours started talking about the near misses and hardships they had, what it would have meant if our neighbour had died, and how it could happen to any of us, any time. We could just … die. 

The relationship with them transformed. Only briefly. But the conversation stayed with me long after the tea had been finished. 

Life could change in an instant — and your relationships with your neighbours could too.


Brigid Delaney is a senior writer for Guardian Australia. She has previously worked as a lawyer and journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald, the Telegraph (London), ninemsn and CNN. She is the author of Wellmania, This Restless Life and Wild Things.
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