Citizen Kane (1941)

citizenkaneThe American Film Institute (AFI) will mount a special 75th Anniversary screening of the restored master at AFI FEST, the Institute’s annual film festival in Hollywood, on November 13th.

Who’s to know what would have been gained had anyone ever discovered what Rosebud meant? All we ever really know is that, like the faceless reporters that pounce on the death of Charles Foster Kane explain, it probably never really would have mattered. What ever piece of the puzzle would have made Charles Foster Kane feel whole was lost a very long time ago. We can never really pin point when and how, but why that gave him immense satisfaction and the feeling of completion was gone. As we gander at the endless piles of trash Kane collected over his years, as well as speak to the endless people Kane eventually began to collect, it’s pretty clear nothing could ever really give Charles Foster Kane a sense of fulfillment or make him feel complete.

It’s mostly exemplified in the scene where Charles Foster Kane is sitting at a lunch with his friends discussing his plans for his new news paper and his friend asks “Are you still eating?” to which Kane admits to always being hungry. The food and drinks and parties could never quite fill that hunger within him, and his entire life wasn’t spent on so much seeking happiness and celebrating his idea of the American dream. It was instead chasing something that could fill the starvation of his soul and humanity. By the end of “Citizen Kane,” Charles Foster Kane is a man who literally has everything, including a kingdom at his feet, and yet he has less than when he was a child living with two impoverished parents. Sold in to adoption to Walter Parks Thatcher who spends most of Kane’s youth belittling and degrading him, Kane eventually grows in to someone who despises his lifestyle.

He also uses it as a means of spiting Thatcher as much as he possibly can. Even with his immense wealth, Kane never really manages to find a sense of bonding and human connection, and spends an enormous amount of time looking for it in his youth. Orson Welles’ direction is marvelous, offering something of a look in to a world that’s both dark and unforgiving in many corners. Kane’s world is filled with vultures and predators, many of whom sit in corners and perched in balconies waiting for him to fail. When Kane finally does die, this is not a familiar world, and it’s not the same world he leaves behind. It one filled with eager shadows and talking heads struggling to make sense of his last words, and how that could possibly be the key to understanding him.

But with Kane himself incapable of understanding why he couldn’t find fulfillment, the journey speaks sounds about the idea of wealth and hollow rewards of fame. Even if we never quite decode what Rosebud meant to the man. Surely we get a glimpse in to what he referenced in the final scene, but how he spoke of it and to what sense of longing will always remain a mystery for the ages. Orson Welles’ masterpiece is about wealth, fame, obsession, celebrity obsession, and the search for meaning through the hollow minute gratification of materialism. It’s a gripping and absolutely fascinating drama and Welles is utterly unparalleled.