Here is my secret confession, WordPress, typed out in all its glory. Despite it’s history, until a week ago, I had never seen Citizen Kane. Gasp. I know. Never. As a kid, I remember theNew York Times placing a list for the top 100 movies ever made, and Citizen Kane was #1. No offense to Orson Welles, but all I could think was, “This beat The Care Bears Movie? Impossible.” So naturally, this placed the move at a terrible disposition for me.
However, a week ago, that all changed. I saw the light, WordPress. I finally understood what all the hype was.Interestingly enough, although most people focus on the cinematography of Citizen Kane, and with reason, what really captured me was its narrative and Kane as a character. What carried the film was not only the visuals, but the complex character of Charles Kane. Owner of this extravagant land, Xanadu -fyi, an allusion to the poem by Coleridge, which he wrote after having, apparently, some crazy psychedelic dream about Kubla Khan…I’m sure there’s a connection to Kane somewhere. You win again, high school english- and other random exotic things, no one really knew who he was, and throughout the entire movie, you are striving to discover who he is. We follow his life from a small boy all the way until his death bed, and despite all the heinous acts he committed, I cannot help but sympathize with him. Rather being unrelateable, he was just the opposite, and even more than that, he was pitiful. This was a man who surrounded himself by cold, lifeless objects. Things that would never talk back to him. As someone in the movie stated, “$25,000 seems like a lot of money for something without a head.” But it was a price Kane was willing to pay.
The film furthers Kane’s character, by visually manifesting his psyche. There is a huge emphasis on the physical distances between characters, created by long shots, illustrating literal distance while, simultaneously, creating this isolationist feeling. This furthers the idea that, ultimately, Kane is alone and separate from others. Additionally, the film often has these diagonal shadows which often cut off the heads of all the characters. This parralels with all of Kane’s satues, who are are also headless. Conceptually, these images tie together to further demonstrate Kane’s sense of loss and hopelessness.
By the end of the film, however, he is so tired and vulnerable, that, this ‘brutish’ person dissolves into a man. The final scene where Charles Kane destroys the room is probably the most gripping scene in the movie. At this point, his wife has just left him and it is the first time we truly see him have an emotional reaction. The scene is interesting because it shows the many facets of Kane: It shows the cold, corporate monster, but it also shows the human inside. He is a man, just like anyone else, and, ironically, a simple one at that. He says at one point in the movie, “if I hadn’t been really rich, I think I could’ve been a good man.” While he may have surrounded himself with these objects and wealth, at the end of the day, he can be touched and affected by seemingly trivial things, like a sled from his youth. The most haunting part of the scene occurs right when he picks up the snowglobe. We see the look of deep sadness and longing on Kane’s face, and immediately cut to all his employees who look equally horrified. As abrupt and juxtaposed as these images are, they still remain beautiful. Not only is it shot beautifully with close ups and dynamic pans, but it is also because of the charactesr. We are set up to believe Kane is numb and heartless, but it is in this moment when he breaks and gives into his emotions. His mind finally shatters giving way to the other sides of his personality, as demonstrated literally when he stands in front of the mirror, highlighting additionally his lack of control. Furthermore, his servants are speechless and seem horrified by his acts. And yet, when he actually was committing terrible deeds, we never see them provide such a strong reaction.
Overall, although I pity Kane and love and appreciate the nuances of his character, I do not pity him enough to think Citizen Kane deserves to be the #1 movie of all time. Sorry, Orson.