An unwelcoming world : Citizen Kane (1941)


Citizen Kane, the grandest presentation of cinema in its time (arguably even today) is looked at as one of the greatest inspirations in film-making by many artists throughout the world. Although movies made ever since have achieved their feats in film-making, they are rarely ever as detailed, careful and as creative as Citizen Kane.

Not talking about my favorite technical aspects of the film would be criminal and so I will, briefly about some of the styles that were used in this film that I found interesting. I was particularly amazed at how deep-focus shots were used to clinical perfection but also justifiably to tell us a story. Although deep-focus shots can be achieved without great difficulty in modern cinema, it has often failed to connect to the scene in play, especially in comparison to Citizen Kane. The usage of these shots seem tailored to a character like Charles Foster Kane. Orson Welles uses distance in a deep-focus shot to convey the disconnect the character has to the situation.

Take a look at a few images I compiled from the movie:


Young Charles Kane is placed in a secondary frame at a distance, the distance here implying how far away he is from exercising any control of the events occurring inside the house.


This is an older Charles Kane who is still kept at a distance. This time there is a progression from the previous frame where he believes he has gained control in his life (presumably due to the acceptance of his newspaper by fans) although not enough to dictate authority in this situation.


The scene when Emily finds out about Kane’s affair with Susan, Kane is again furthest from the camera. Again we see a progression compared to the other previous frames symbolizing that he still assumes he has more control (presumably because of a larger fan base he has now as a result of running for office) even when things take a sharp turn in his life. Also, notice the lighting effects here where Kane is sunk in a shadow to emphasize his powerlessness.

susan-leaves When Kane loses Susan , we see the emptiness created by distance between Kane and the door. Notice that now he is furthest from the camera implying that he in fact has been stripped of everything. Even a monument as large as Xanadu confines him in emptiness, represented by the layered compositions placed in this shot.

Although, several other aspects of this movie like the lighting, composition framing, sound mixing and editing can be discussed in more detail, they may prove too tedious since the whole movie is woven with whimsical film ideas. I would more importantly love to shift attention to the fact that this movie was not just a circus that showed off mischievous tricks with camera and sound but it was extremely useful to narrate Kane’s story. Citizen Kane is without a doubt one of the most engrossing character studies that should inspire modern film-makers just as much as its interesting presentation.

The movie tells us with lucidity that we are not invited to understand Charles Foster Kane. That is precisely why Mr. Thompson has to encroach his life. Kane is no open book. We only try to build a picture of Kane from the interviews Mr. Thompson draws during his quest to discover what ‘Rosebud’ (Kane’s last words before his death) means.

Torn apart by childhood and ridden with insecurity Kane decides his only purpose in life is to save the downtrodden. He crafts his plans to run a newspaper that will give him fame among people. He influences world politics. He runs for office. He is married twice, divorced twice. This is all the world knows about him and yet the kind of person Charlie Kane is is still a mystery. Later we find that this was a mere facade to pursue acceptance and love from the majority. He pursues acceptance but dictates from a platform where emphasis is on his stubbornness for control. Yet he is often stopped by decisions that have been made for and not by him. He rebels every decision believing he is in control only wreaking more havoc into his life. We are only spectators to the iterative progression of Kane ‘losing it’. The narrative circularly builds on Kane like missing parts of a puzzle from each person’s story.  All this still happens with our minds still intrigued about the final missing piece in the Kane story, ‘Rosebud’. The only time Mr. Thompson ever learns anything about ‘Rosebud’ is when he speaks to Raymond, the butler. Mr. Thompson finally understands that in Kane’s life, some things were never explainable. Kane buried emotions and would never let anyone look at them (No Trespassing).

It is revealed in the end what ‘Rosebud’ is (a sled Charlie Kane owned as a child) as it is thrown into the fire, emphasizing that in the end no one cared enough for Mr. Kane that even when ‘Rosebud’ was staring them right in the face, they were not too interested to look. Even the ones who wanted to look (Mr. Thompson) did not care for Kane more than making him a piece of news.

In my belief ‘Rosebud’ only reminded Kane of everything he could feel and express freely as a child. He is filled with regret and sorrow because ‘Rosebud’ was clearly ‘something he couldn’t get’; ‘something he wanted and then lost it’.


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