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Central ideas, symbols, & film techniques of "Citizen Kane"
Important ideas, symbols, & film techniques of "Citizen Kane":
1. Rosebud (motif): The rasped final word of Charles Foster Kane is a recurring element which is a device to both emulsify the narrative; but also to provide a poignant reminder that the protagonist is fraught with irony.
- o Rosebud is both a symbol and metaphor for the life which Kane essentially pursues. It is an aural representation of the love, happiness, simplicity, and innocence which defined his tranquil existence in "Little Salem". Thus, the juxtaposition between his former life and that which he actually possesses causes Kane to propel himself in any direction he perceives will ameliorate the absence of his salient ideals.
- o Eg. Kane attempts to generate a sense of love expressed by the public to himself via his ill advised political campaign, and also during his vicarious operatic abomination "Sallambo", starring "awful ignorant" Susan Alexander.
- o The irony is that Kane's pursuit of the ideals that define "Rosebud" causes him to essentially expunge his connection to them.
- o Eg. Kane relinquishes a connection to innocence as he destroys Susan's innate character. He publicly humiliates her during an attempt to inspire and channel love to himself, because of the assumed quality of the operatic experience which is aforementioned.( NB: See published HUB about Kane's downfall for a more weighted discussion)
2. Jigsaw-puzzles (motif): The jigsaw puzzles of Susan Alexander can be considered superficially as a means to fulfill her intransigent existence with Kane; as the audience essentially associates this image with unresolved issues and fractured personalities. However, the pervasive implication the Welles' explicates is that:
- o Since not all the pieces fit succinctly, it symbolizes that often the characteristics of an individual are contradictory. Thus, it underscores the futilities of Charles Foster Kane, as he is fraught with hypocrisy. This trait is highlighted by the incessant conflict others face when exposed to all the elements that forge one's character - E.g. thoughts, emotions, actions, public attributes such as name and appearance.(NB: See published HUB about Kane being difficult to know for a more weighted discussion)
3. Jewels (motif): Jewels are pervasively considered as an expression of the altruistic ideal love. However, the irony Kane's gifts are that he wishes to provoke others to express love for himself; which is essentially the inversion of the perennial social convention.
- o E.g. Kane's attempts to prove love rather than express it - jewels to both Susan and Emily Monroe Norton, & the "Declaration of Principles" for the people/ "the working man".
4. Campaign office rubbish (symbol): The low-set camera position exemplifies the contrast between the size of Kane's aspirations, and his actual position in reality. The relative position of the streamers, in comparison to the "KANE" posters, symbolizes that he perceives himself as more significant than he actually is.
5. "Xanadu-still unfinished" (metaphor): This phrase proves as an aural metaphor for the director's perspective that one can never achieve the American Dream. It is inevitably elusive, even with wealth that is of a magnitude which "no man can say".
- o Also NB: Welles essentially portrays that money cannot compensate for emptiness.
6. Images of Purity/ Perfection (symbols/ motifs/ metaphors): Welles employs these as a device to establish an association to untainted tableaux's and subsequently a perfect existence, yet the further implications of them emanate the harrowing truth for all, that such a life is tragically ephemeral.
- o Bernstein's recollection of the "girl in the white dress, with a white parasol": This girl symbolizes perfection and purity, however the salient implication of his comment that his experience lasted "only for a second", figuratively conveys that one's connection to the perfect existence is fleeting.
- o The Snow Globe: This proves to be a visual manifestation of Kane's concept of a perfect life, as he perceives that his former life in Colorado offers a paradigm for happiness.
7. Implications of the Newsreel labeling: During the "Newsreel" montage, Kane is sequentially described as a "communist", and a "fascist". Communism is a system of government in which prosperity is shared by the community; which implies that Kane desires social equality. However, this is clearly inaccurate as Kane attempts to establish a heightened social position for himself. Fascists are people who support an extreme right-wing dictatorship, and so, the label implies that Kane desires none to have liberty; which is an incorrect assumption.
- o The motive of the director is to construct a binary opposition between the political images of Charles Foster Kane. This device establishes the contradictory social perceptions of the protagonist, and ominously presages the "two people" which Kane considers himself to be.
8. Infrequent use of investigative close-ups: Welles refrains from the use of investigative close-ups for the majority of the film. This symbolically conveys that it is difficult for one to experience true insight into another person, and subsequently explicates that it is difficult to truly know someone.
9. Non-lineal narrative/plot construction: This provides stark juxtapositions between images of characters. For example, Susan Alexander's decadence is visually and figuratively portrayed in the contrast between her "very simple" innocence, symbolized by her possession of the snow-globe; and the fractured persona in the "El Rancho" bar. The elements of misc en scene heighten these recurring juxtapositions, as the cracks in the bar's wall emphasize Susan's compromised nature. NB: The audience's pervasive disgust and rejection of Susan Alexander emphasizes the director's device; for her innocence is extinguished in lieu of a languid persona dominated by dissolute pursuits.
10. The infinite reflections of Kane scene: The shattered man, Charles Foster Kane, passes a series of mirrors in which his image is duplicated infinitely. This metaphorically conveys that there are infinite versions of Kane.
10. Low-camera angles/position: This projects the significance, or perceived significance, of the individuals that occupy the frame, as they dominate its focus. Kane's attempts to establish and perpetuate his ego are an undercurrent to such scenes.
11. Reflecting and refracting surfaces: During the opening montage of "Xanadu", the nurse is portrayed through the refracted angles of shattered glass, which portends the psychological focus of Welles' dramatic narrative.