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Film Review: Citizen Kane

Updated on March 7, 2016
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Written by: Jason Wheeler, Film Frenzy Senior Writer & Editor.

Background

In 1941, Orson Welles released Citizen Kane, a film he also produced, co-wrote and starred in. Partly based off the life of William Randolph Hearst, the film also stared Joseph Cotton, Dorothy Comingore, Everett Sloane, Ray Collins, George Coulouris, Agnes Moorehead, Paul Stewart, Ruth Warrick, Erskine Sanford, and William Alland. Grossing $1.56 million at the box office, the film was nominated for the Academy Awards for Outstanding Motion Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Writing, Best Art Direction – Interior Decoration (Black and White) Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography (Black and White) Best Music (Score of a Dramatic Picture, and Best Sound Recording. However the National Board of Review named it Best Picture of the Year, giving Best Acting awards to Welles and Couloruris and the New York Film Critics Circle Award gave it Best Picture.

Synopsis

As Charles Foster Kane dies alone in seclusion, he utters “Rosebud” as his last word. And in an effort to find out the significance of the word reporter Jerry Thompson interviews those who knew him. However, as the film flashes back through Kane’s life, Thompson finds that no one knows who or what Rosebud was.

Analysis

Though Hearst did everything he could to kill the film, Citizen Kane has become known as one of the greatest and most influential films ever made. Interestingly, the ending, which shows the audience what Kane's last word meant while the character searching for it remains in the dark, has been parodied and referenced so much in popular culture. Though all the references makes it so that it's hardly a spoiler anymore as well as making the film an example of a movie that nearly everyone knows the ending to, the journey of viewing the film to see just how that ending comes about is just as great as simply knowing the ending does not give the same impact as watching the entire film for the ending to be given context.

It's that context that makes it such a great film, especially in what it deconstructs. Attacking the narrative style of 1940s Hollywood, the film’s theme of an antihero dying alone and unredeemed, having never learned his lesson, the film depicts the dark side of being a self-made man living the American Dream. It shows that successfully climbing the social latter and gaining large amounts of wealth ultimately makes a person value others less and brings about a desire to control them. Further, the film’s characters aren’t marked by a solitary attribute. Instead they have multiple, which is seen in the path Kane takes as he rises to the top and eventually crashes back to the bottom.

At the beginning, Kane actually declares that he lives by his principles and champions the paper he works for along with himself as someone who constantly seeks truth and justice. He even says he’s a defender of the common man. However, as he climbs that social ladder and gathers more wealth to become one of, if not the, most powerful man in the world he eventually becomes the very antithesis of what he started out as. Instead of a man who seeks truth, justice and the good of the everyday person he morphs into a power-hungry megalomaniacal controller of information. Eventually, he desires for the common man to love him, but won’t give anything back. All of this can be seen when he yells that the people will think what he tells them to. And that, in turn, makes him become a paranoid recluse who, as said above, dies alone and unhappy, with a simple desire to be loved.

This is what gives the ending that has been mocked and parodied so many times its punch. In his final desire to be loved, he remembers the last time he was truly happy. And that was when he was playing with Rosebud. His childhood sled. Out of context, the realization that Rosebud is a sled makes for a simple joke and a possibly cheap laugh before moving on. However, in context, it serves to make the audience think about everything we lose in a desire to climb to the top with no thought about what or who is in the way.

5 stars for Citizen Kane

the postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent WNI's positions, strategies or opinion

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    • RJ Schwartz profile image

      Ralph Schwartz 2 years ago from Idaho Falls, Idaho

      Great analysis of a classic film.

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