by Jeric Llanes
Even after death, we will continue to live on in the memories of the people we came across in our lifetimes. But for someone as grand as the great Charles Foster Kane, the main protagonist of this 1941 classic mystery-drama, the image we get of the man is multifaceted, and extremely polarizing. In Citizen Kane, the plot is driven by the mystery of Kane’s infamous final words before his death, “Rosebud”, and news reporter Jerry Thompson’s quest to find the meaning behind them. He interviews a variety of Kane’s close confidants, ranging from business partners, to past lovers and butlers, each of them painting a different picture of the man through a series of personal vignettes.
But of course, Thompson’s mission is the same as the audience’s. We want to know more about Kane, and the reporter is simply the catalyst that gets us access to his history. I thought it was a very interesting choice from a cinematic standpoint to have Thompson‘s face hidden in most of the scenes where he investigates. He’s often in the shadows, or the back of his head is faced towards the camera while the focus remains on the character he is interviewing. (Honestly I can’t quite remember what he truly looks like!) But in doing so, it makes it feel like the characters are talking directly to us. Thompson is doing the investigating, but more importantly, the audience is directly getting the information first hand.
Subtle cinematic decisions and edits such as these really added to my enjoyment of this film. There are of a lot of long and single takes for one scene, where the camera pans in and out of wide angle shots, usually to reveal or highlight an important aspect of the setting. Instead of simply cutting to the next shot, the camera holds its position and shifts its focus. Unique shots and decisions like these, I think, enhance the storytelling of this drama. One prime example is a scene towards the end of the film where Kane walks alongside a mirror in his lonely mansion. As he continues to move forward, the audience not only sees the singular shape of his figure, but also the many reflections of the man through the glass, which is precisely how we’ve come to know Kane’s character throughout the entire film. Clever, right?
We never truly know who the real Charles Kane is, as each tale about him only gives us fragments of the true character. We get glimpses of Kane’s childhood, and proceed to go back and forth in time between important moments of his adult life. This style of storytelling is somewhat disorienting, as the story doesn’t follow a linear path through time. But according to the American Film Institute, director Orson Wells (who also happens to star as the titular character) has gone on record stating that his goal for this film was to explore the depths of a character, as opposed to keeping a standard narrative. Looking at it from that perspective, in terms of depth of Kane’s character, the story does follow a linear path. Each “interview” dives deeper and deeper into Kane’s mysterious past and reveals something that we had not previously known before.
As grand and influential as Charles Foster Kane appears to be, his story is a still tragic one. The opening sequence depicts quite a powerful man, but each subsequent vignette shows a more insecure and lonely person, despite the money and success of his ventures. While the stories individually might not be connected organically, we as an audience get the chance to piece the puzzle together and decide for ourselves what “Rosebud” meant to Kane and who he really was.
Overall I thought this was a great blend of character development and a masterful use of cinematography. Citizen Kane the film, like its lead character, is enigmatic. You can never quite figure everything out on the first try. There’s way too much to see and learn. This is a film that can probably be watched multiple times, and you’ll still get something new out of it while also having room to question even more!
Where to Watch this Film:Citizen Kane (1941) is available for rent/purchase on Youtube, Amazon Video, VUDU, Google Play, iTunes, and Netflix DVD.