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January 31, 2008

Citizen Kane

If you haven't seen Citizen Kane, you should. And when you see it, you should watch it with an open mind, because it's incredible. On one level, there are the amazing technical achievements, the deep focus that plays out three different layers of action, the fantastic use of light, and scene transitions. But the reason it's so good is because of the story. Because, in the classic sense of the word, it's just about a perfect tragedy. In a tragedy, a person who has the whole world loses everything. So you have kings, or rich men, or great people ending up dead, or emotionally dead, or both.

Citizen Kane: Of Work and Love

Citizen Kane is the story of Charles Foster Kane, who unsuccessfully navigates the spheres of work and love in an attempt to gain what was stolen from him at an early age.

When still a young boy, Kane's mother chose work for him– assigning him to the custody of a bank so he could be raised to handle his newfound wealth – over the simple home-life he had. So at an early age, the conflicts of work and love were at work in Kane's life, irreparably damaging him and setting him on a lifelong fool's quest to regain what he lost. This point was made clear by the newsman's desire to find out the meaning of Kane's last word.

That's it – motivation. What made Kane what he was? And, for that matter, what was he? What we've just seen are the outlines of a career – what's behind the career? What's the man? Was he good or bad? Strong or foolish? Tragic or silly? Why did he do all those things? What was he after? Maybe he told us on his death bed.

He did tell us on his deathbed. "Rosebud," the name of his sled, the symbol of his simple homelife, his last innocent childhood activity, and his last weapon in a sad effort to prevent the inevitable change.

Without a word, Charles hits Thatcher in the stomach with the sled.


You almost hurt me, Charles. Sleds aren't to hit people with. Sleds are to – to sleigh on.

That the film uses extensive use of flashback is certainly effective, as it highlights the that Kane had no fond memories. For most people, memories are tinged with nostalgia, a "We'll always have Paris" warmth where you recall a moment where love was strong and real and present. But Kane had no such memory in the whole of the film.

Early on, Kane attempted to regain his lost love and childhood through work. He decided it would be "fun" to run a Newspaper, and in a childlike way he did just that. And he fashioned himself an "Editor of the People," attempting to gain the favor of the common man. Of course, this conflicted greatly with his work, costing him a million dollars a year. When pressed by his surrogate father, Thatcher, or his conduct with the paper, Kane responded that "he could lose a million dollars a year for the next sixty years."

Kane attempted to find love through his first wife, and early on things seemed hopeful. Yet as his media empire grew, his relationship with his wife soured, to the point where she remarked that she would only know how he was doing by reading his papers. And this day came.

Kane attempted to parlay his media empire into a way to make all the people love him – by running for Governor. This was going to be the apex of his work achieving the love he always wanted. It was a sure thing, a large portrait of him, enthusiastic crowds cheering. But this massive success was undermined by a simple, innocent attempt at love.

With his marriage fallen apart, grown barren, he met a young woman, Susan. Their time together was chaste, simple conversation, him being taken by her singing voice. Just a hint of the love he had never experienced. But his rival for the governor's office used it to spread scandal.

At the threat of this, Kane believed he had gained the loved of the people, tragically proclaiming:

You do anything you want to do. The people of this state can decide which one of us to trust. If you want to know, they've already decided.

But in fact, his last great attempt at finding love through his work betrayed him. He lost to Rogers. And the irony was, his great accomplishment in his work was the very tool by which he was scandalized, the yellow journalism that would print innuendo without any foundation in truth. So again in this way his life's work, his legacy, allowed "this public thief to take the love of the people of this state away from" him.

But he had one last try for love left in him. Susan Alexander, the woman who had been used to scandalize her, and the voice that had captivated him. Having given up on his work, at this point he pours himself into her, and his attempt for love. But, like a feral child never quite being able to learn language, at this point it's too late, and he cannot love her in the way she needs. Alexander accuses her of this:

Love! You don't love anybody! Me or anybody else! You want to be loved – that's all you want! I'm Charles Foster Kane. Whatever you want – just name it and it's yours! Only love me! Don't expect me to love you –

And in the end, this is his life, this is why he's dying and thinking of that sled, thinking of his loss.

[Love is] why he did everything. That's why he went into politics. It seems we weren't enough. He wanted all the voters to love him, too. All he really wanted out of life was love. That's Charlie's story – it's the story of how he lost it. You see, he just didn't have any to give.

Posted by jason on January 31, 2008 02:15 AM


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