I pray to the uninitiated to go watch Citizen Kane and I pray to the Movie God that they be allowed to see the movie without having to think about the weight that Kane carries and enjoy it in all its brilliance.
I am just going to believe that Citizen Kane released the day before yesterday. That’s it. Here I am writing about it with the same misguided enthusiasm that I have whenever I write about a new release.
The castle’s not a welcome sight, a very dark place, a palace possibly going to waste, seen better days? Doesn’t seem so, it seems it was quite hopeless from the start, unsettling in ways that sometimes open spaces can be. There’s also the sign, “no trespassing”.
Somewhere deep in this castle lies Kane,at least he seemed to have seen better days? Or is he too like his castle, unsettling and doomed to be depressed always. That’s the feeling I get, as the only light in the castle goes out.
And a snow globe gently glides down the bed and shatters.
Life is not a snow globe
A house in winter, captured as the snow rains, set for eternity. But life is not this captured mountain scene in a snow globe, nor does it rain snow always, nor can it be controlled and enclosed within a glass dome.
Someone should have told Kane that, maybe they did, but would he have listened?
Who was Charles Foster Kane?
The castle, Xanadu, a monument to himself, unfinished. Ah yes, I can see where my discomfort comes from, a monument for yourself, now that seems pretty sad.
Consider the narrative of Citizen Kane.The story’s been sullied by multiple narrators, all of whom are suspect and been wronged by Kane at some point. Heck, even the “News on the march” segment (which is basically the whole movie in 10 mins even before the movie begins) cannot be trusted, for example, it shows him at once a friend to the workers and the other time a cold capitalist.
But what sort of a man was this Mr Kane?
Orson Welles’ genius is that he keeps posing the same question all through the movie, who was this Charles Foster Kane?
Was he a mountain child wishing only to play in the snow all day?
No but he also liked taking over loss making newspapers and building an empire, so was he interested in the news?
Or was he interested in the business of news?
Did he marry for love? Or did he hope to find love in the President’s niece?
Did he really love opera? Or did he just build an opera house because he can?
Yes cannot be the answer for all of these questions, but what is affirmative is that a man or a woman is not wholly knowable, definitely not from the impressions that they have left behind.
These residuals are simply not enough to truly like or hate Kane. Any additional information only deepens the mystery, leaving us with no answer to what sort of a man Kane is. It’s not the question we should be pursuing.
Welles himself hints at the answer, towards the end, when one of the many reporters tasked with finding out what Rosebud was, says one word can never sum up a man.
What could Citizen Kane be about?
I, like the reporters in this movie, could spend years trying to know what was in Kane’s mind and not care about what’s hiding in plain sight.
To me, Citizen Kane is about: desire leads to suffering.
Let’s look at this way.
Kane desires the Inquirer to be the most read newspaper but he also desires to be appreciated by the editorial of the serious folks at ‘Chronicle’, his suffering here is he loses his only friend to this contradiction.
Kane desires more people to love him, runs for governor, doesn’t make it because of his affair with a ‘singer, his over estimation blinds him and he suffers a severe damage, never to fully recover again.
Kane desires to be seen as a patron of the art, again pushing through, trying to make a non singer shine, suffers more damage and loses his only personal connection.
Kane desires to build the most prized private collection of arts in the whole world, and no one wants to live with him in it.
If there is one thing that the movie keeps establishing is this.
It’s not about the unknowable persona of Kane but that even the most fulfilling desires are not so fulfilling.And where do we go from there?
Welles doesn’t cast Kane as a villain or a hero, but a sad figure of history who achieved so much and still so little, it is an optimistic tale on what a person can achieve in a lifetime, but it is also a cautionary tale.
Citizen Kane asks us to choose your desires wisely, because we must be willing to suffer for it. Kane’s early fortune in the mines made it possible that he could afford to take all the suffering that life put in his way (honestly he added most of the suffering himself) but not all of us are blessed with a choice of businesses to run and a personal treasury.
Kane probably thought that happiness and satisfaction can be got from being successful, being popular and being loved. To his credit he pursued all of it with his talent and charm.
But it’s not a very happy ending, alone filled with memories or maybe I am reading too much and leaning into some imaginary rule that allots more weightage to how a person died than how a person lived.
I wonder from where the citizen part of “Citizen Kane” came through, probably it is from the notion of the American Dream, a broad affirmation of what America stands for, a land where an individual can live a richer and fuller life when they reach the best of their abilities. Kane did that, he did reach the pinnacle of what was possible for him, it maybe made him richer, but not fuller.
Forget Rosebud it’s an imagined mystery made eternal on screen, but the suffering is real.
PS: The Sight & Sound Magazine has been publishing the greatest 10 films of all time list, spaced by a decade since 1952. Citizen Kane was on top of the list from 1962 to 2002, only to be replaced by Vertigo, a movie about a singular obsession and how that too leads to suffering.
PPS: I pray the knowledgeable to forgive this amateur, there has been a lot written and said about Citizen Kane, while mine may not add anything to it, I hope it does not scar the reader’s memory or spoil any existing scholarship.
All images from youtube.