Citizen Kane and Audience Engagement

The central action of Citizen Kane lies in the mystery of Kane’s final word – “Rosebud”. The overarching narrative (the newsreel staff attempting to find an explanation for “rosebud”) binds together the eclectic genius of the film. In essence there are two plots – the story of Charles Foster Kane’s life, and the story of the attempt to explain his last words. The flashback sequences take up most of the actual time and space of the movie, but without the newsreel plot the film would lose a great amount of coherence and structure. The “meta” narrative of the newsreel provides context for the flashback sequences and also allows for a smooth transition between the sequences.

Given the title, it makes sense that the most important, interesting, and meaningful scenes all take place as flashbacks focusing on Kane. In essence, and I think where Orson Welles’s real passion and idea was, the film attempts to condense a man’s life into two hours of short vignettes. However, the audience does not start out with any knowledge or attachment to Kane. Welles uses the mystery of Rosebud drives our attention and engagement with the film until we can make the transition to engaging because of our attachment to Kane. At the end of the movie, the reporters explicitly dismiss the importance of Rosebud. I thought it was hilarious as the woman says “What about Rosebud? Don’t you think that explains anything?”, and immediately Thompson ostensibly dismisses the entire point of the movie – “No, I don’t.”

I think Orson Welles uses these more traditional narrative structures, a mystery and an investigation, to lure the audience into the story he really wants to tell about a man’s life.

1 comment
  1. I really enjoyed your writing style and found it interesting that Welles uses narrative elements like flashbacks, multiple perspectives, and overlaying mysteries to reel us into watching a film about a man’s life. This blog reminds me of the discussion we had in class today about story versus plot. In Citizen Kane, we defined the story to be a visual description of Kane’s life and his interactions with other characters and his environment. The plot, on the other hand, was simply an ordering of events in the film as shown to the audience. However, it’s important to note that the plot brings purpose to the story. Why would we, as the audience, be interested in Kane’s life if it weren’t for the driving plot regarding Rosebud? The plot gives Citizen Kane’s story a reason for being, but also is a technique used by writers to convey information. The plot is a clever way to not only make us intrigued about the story, but also to provide us necessary details that we would be lost without in this storytelling process.

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