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Duality and Contradiction in Citizen Kane

Updated on March 21, 2010

"Duality and Contradiction in Citizen Kane."

It is ironic that Orson Welles, an indisputable auteur and master of formalism created his crowning masterpiece “Citizen Kane” at age 24 years old. His ability to reproduce reality in various manners gives him such high distinction. Themes of duality and contradiction are pervasive in the stories of both men. Not only was Welles an outstanding director, his ability to utilize three or more different styles of film making in one movie is astounding. Retaining the older “German Expressionist” style, he was able to utilize radical camera angles, dramatic use of chiaroscuro, and authoritative blocking in his films. His use of space on the screen either dramatically filling the screen with an image, or utilizing the wide angle to show three distinctive montages was effective in communicating his own personal style.

 The use of romanticism and its themes of pastoral images, grotesque terror and family drama served to create the schism between “good” and “evil” in humanity. Irony is present in this film as it is in Welles’ life, which is another contradiction and dual theme. His psychological and philosophical values and those of his protagonist Charles Foster Kane were eerily similar in comparison in many ways, and the employment of the shadow side appears to be evident in the choice of  lighting shots used in the film to highlight this dualism.

This hidden flawed side of Kane’s personality comes through in this movie in many different manifestations. An example of the way this is highlighted is in the documentary news-reels (the second style of film making) utilized in the film. Kane is shown to be a man who begins his career as a liberal and in the beginning we see him expressing his beliefs from a socially satirical position. His decision to make a “Declaration of Principles” whereby he is above board in his newspaper dealings is circumvented as he bends to sign the document. Once he leans to sign, his face is plunged into darkness and we effectively know this is a foreshadowing of a fall from grace. As time goes on we are enmeshed in a preoccupation with tragedy when his political career dissolves from an scandalous extra-marital affair that is revealed. Another shot clearly reveals his association with Roosevelt and his New Deal politic and conversely an image with Adolph Hitler.

The gothic element in this film highlights the corruption and rebelliousness of Kane versus the other side or moral purity. As Naremore indicates in his book, this tale interweaves many of the same issues Orson Welles had dealt with in his own personal life. Psychologically, we see Kane suffering from “displaced libidinal urges”(50)  in his quest for political power. Welles went through the same issues according to Naremore.  Welles criticized Faustian type of individual on more than one occasion and yet admitted that “all the characters I’ve played are various forms of Faust. All bartered their souls and lost.” (Gianetti) Naremore points out that Welles epitomizes many of the same qualities he gives to CF Kane in this film. His childhood, his outer rejection of his shadow side and his inner confusion with his own power seem to be made manifest upon the screen. This also typifies his association with expressionism which shows inner states reflected in the outer world.

Once Welles released this film, it was met with much controversy, especially by WR Hearst, who believed it was an attempt to discredit his life. If art can imitate life, so can life imitate art in that afterwards Welles was not allowed full creative expression at RKO pictures, and his own good fortune seemed to be behind him at the ripe age of 24. Welles and Kane both did not wish to be what they were at times, Welles did not feel comfortable in his own body (50) both had no real childhoods, both “lost” parents”, both appeared to be “out of step” with current reality. Welles utilized the styles of the 1920 film-makers, Kane tried to manipulate Susan’s career and finally both had displaced libidinal energies, and were rebellious.

The final style Welles exhibits appears to use montage effectively as well as some scenes are effective in exhibiting some of the conventions of “Film Noir”. Although we do not see detectives, there are women who give over their lives for Kane. There are three themes played out: wealth, power and love. The first two are evident in the story, but the third remains unaccessible to Kane. His mother gives him to someone else to raise him, his first wife is a President’s daughter but this does not prove to be a good match, and the third is second wife Susan, an uneducated and uninspiring woman with whom he wishes to control after he loses the ability to control the masses. Susan is not totally stupid, she can see his duality and eventually leaves him.

Kane walks the hall of mirrors showing the pieces of the puzzle that has become his life. The fragmentation now is more than dual, it is complete. He has disintegrated after selling his soul in a Faustian way to the devil. Proxemic ranges in the mise en scene had shown different angles that suggested shifts in the power of the relationships the characters had with each other, and now we see exaggerated distances signaling separation, alienation and loneliness as Kane makes his way down the hallway. Naremore reminds us that the characters in the film are determined by their “material existence, and yet seem fatalistic about this condition, suggesting there is no way to radically transform human consciousness.”(81) Welles sure brilliantly manipulates reality in this film in order to remind us we are human.


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    • Aley Martin profile image

      Alice Lee Martin 8 years ago from Sumner, Washington,USA

      Can understand this, but he was one brilliant filmmaker!

    • melindaenglish profile image

      melindaenglish 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Never was a favorite of mine; it reminds me of all the mean men I have met in my life.