Citizen Kane: Rosebud

Orson Welles as Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane is an American drama film released in 1941. It is directed, produced, co-authored and starred by Orson Welles. Citizen Kane is considered by many fans, critics, and filmmakers as the greatest film ever made. It has been voted the greatest film of all time in five consecutive Sight and Sound polls of critics, until replaced in the 2012 poll by the movie Vertigo. It has topped the American Film Institute’s (AFI) 100 Years 100 Movies list in the year 1998 and in the AFI’s 2007 update.

Citizen Kane is praised for its music, cinematography, and narrative structure which have been very innovative for its time.

Rosebud: The Dying Word

The movie opens quite gloomily in Xanadu, a palatial estate of Charles Foster Kane in Florida. Charles Kane is alone on his deathbed holding a snow globe, and utters, “Rosebud” before he dies.

The death of the enormously wealthy newspaper publisher becomes sensational news and a newsreel’s producer has tasked one of his reporters, Jerry Thompson to discover what Charles Kane’s dying word means.

The movie shows the life of Charles Foster Kane from the stories of his friends and associates interviewed by Thompson.

Charles Foster Kane

Charles Kane is born poor on a farm in Little Salem, Colorado. His mother Mary owns a run-down, wooden boarding house. When a poor prospector finds it hard to pay for his stay at her boarding house, he gives her in lieu of payment what seem to be worthless mining stock certificates. As it turns out, Mary becomes the sole owner of the Colorado Lode, one of the world’s great gold mines.

With her sudden wealth, Mary Kane chooses the Thatcher and Company’s banking firm to manage her financial interests, to become administrator of her estate, and to act as the trustees of the fortune and guardian of her son, Charles Foster Kane until he reaches the age of 25 when he can take over and control his possession.

Charles is sent away to live with Thatcher who would see to it that the boy is properly educated. At age 25, Charles gains full control and enters the newspaper business. With the New York Inquirer, he embarks on a career of yellow journalism. He achieves power through his newspaper empire. He hires the best journalists to build the circulation of the New York Inquirer.

Then he marries Emily Norton, a daughter of a senator the niece of the President of the United States. Everyone thinks that the marriage is a stepping-stone to the White House for Charles Kane.

The movie has successfully depicted the deteriorating marriage of Charles Kane and Emily over the course of nine years through a montage of breakfast table scenes. It’s one of the best parts of the movie. The scene shows a sweet couple in their newly-wed days, talking and obviously adoring each other to a couple sitting opposite each other in stony silence.

Kane’s friend, Jedediah Leland, explains to the reporter Thompson that once Charles Kane has achieved power, he has looked for love. All he wants is love but he does not have any to give. He enters politics because he wants the voters to love him. He is desperate for love because he has been taken from his mother in early childhood. All he wants is love but he can not love anyone except himself. Charles Kane loves only Charles Kane, and his mother.

Charles Kane’s marriage to Emily disintegrates, and he begins to have an affair with an amateur singer named Susan Alexander just as he is running for Governor of New York. The voters love him and he has a good chance of winning until his political opponent and his wife discover the affair. Instead of protecting Emily and his son by giving up on his political ambition, he decides to face the scandal head on, thinking that the public love him enough to vote him into the governorship. The scandal ends his political career and Emily leaves him. Sadly, Emily and their son die in an auto accident.

Charles Kane marries Susan Alexander and forces her into a singing career, even building an opera house for her. It is clear, though, that Susan Alexander does not have the talent to become an opera singer. She begs Charles Kane to let her stop singing but he wants her to continue, even hiring a voice coach for her.

With the end of his political career, Charles Kane uses his wealth and influence to make his new wife a successful singer. But when he presents her at his own theater in a lavish production, her debut performance becomes a disaster. It is at this time that Charles Kane fires his friend Jedediah Leland because as the dramatic critic of the Chicago Inquirer, Leland can not come up with a good critical review for Susan Alexander.

Charles Kane manipulates Susan Alexander’s operatic career by publishing headlines that extol Susan’s performances. Susan is unrealistically pressured and forced to continue her operatic career until she can no longer take it. She attempts to take her own life and Charles Kane stops bullying her continue singing.

He builds her a private castle in Florida named Xanadu and they retreat and isolate themselves in the mansion.

When the stock market crashes in 1929, Charles Kane’s newspaper empire weakens as its circulation and popularity has diminished. He never recovers from the Great Depression. He is forced to sell controlling interests of his empire to Thatcher who takes over in the name of the bank.

Charles Kane has become increasingly isolated and lonely as he feels the effects of losing his publishing network. At Xanadu, he is surrounded by many servants and a huge collection of art treasures he has bought from all over the world, objects he has obsessively collected. Many of them are still in their packing crates, not opened nor displayed. Kane wanders through the echoing halls of Xanadu. Susan feels empty in the midst of all its grandeur, she does not like living there. She feels imprisoned, unable to go to distant places. She becomes miserable, lonely, frustrated, bored, and desperate. She decides to leave Charles Kane.

Charles thrashes Susan’s room after she has left. He picks up in his hand the snow crystal paperweight that Susan has left behind and he murmurs, “Rosebud.” The same word he utters with his dying breath.

The movie ends with Kane’s belongings being either cataloged or discarded as junk. The reporter Thompson is unable to solve the mystery of “Rosebud” which may just remain an enigma forever.

Spoiler Alert!

As Thompson leaves Xanadu with other reporters, the camera reveals that “Rosebud” is the name of the sled from Kane’s childhood - the time he was happy, and with his mother. The Xanadu staff thinks the sled is junk so it is thrown into the furnace to burn, and along with it burns the memory of Charles Kane's childhood, the memory that has mattered to him in his dying moment.

Personal Insights

Many times, people think that wealth can bring happiness and contentment but as proven so many times, it does not. Charles Kane has given Susan Alexander everything she can ever ask for, a huge palace, fame, money and all that money can buy, but to his utter shock, all of the things he can offer has not stopped Susan from leaving him.

There is also a nice comparison here between Emily and Susan. Whereas Emily displays a cool composure even as she complains of losing Charles to his newspaper business, Susan is seen as vulgar and loud-mouthed as she airs her complaints. Breeding really counts.

From the story, it seems that Charles Kane has been affected by being taken away from his mother at a young age. A mother’s love can never be replaced by money. He grows up under the cold tutelage of a banker and he has not experienced real love from his family. In that environment, it is easy to see how he learned to love only himself as he perceives that no one can love Charles Kane except Charles Kane. All his life, he seeks for love from everyone but the problem is he can not give love to anyone except himself. Most of the decisions he has made in his life is based on what he wants and what he thinks.

When people are enjoying success, they think it can never end. In one of their conversations, Thatcher reminds Kane that according to his financial statements, he has lost one million in one year. Kane answers the old man that he knows he has lost 1 million that year, and he can lose another million next year, and another the year after next. He concludes that at that rate he would have to close down after 60 years. Unfortunately, he has not taken into consideration the Great Depression and the crashing of the stock market. It did not take 60 years for him to lose his newspaper empire. His mistake, he has never made a single investment but always used his money to buy things.

What is yellow journalism?

Also called yellow press is a type of journalism which presents little or no legitimate well-researched news. It uses eye-catching headlines to sell newspapers. The techniques used in yellow journalism may include sensationalism, scandal-mongering, or exaggerations of the news events.

Quotes from Citizen Kane:

Charles Kane (to his manager): “You know, Mr. Bernstein, if I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a really great man…”

Mr. Bernstein (to Mr. Thompson): “Old age, it’s the only disease, Mr. Thompson, that you don’t look forward to being cured of.”

Jedediah Leland (to Mr. Thompson): “I can remember absolutely everything, young man. That’s my curse, that’s one of the greatest curses ever inflicted on the human race, memory.”

Jedediah Leland (talking to Mr. Thompson about Charles Kane): “Maybe I wasn’t his friend, but if I wasn’t, he never had one.”

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