Citizen Kane is a film about the collapse of the “American Dream”, the struggle for love, abuse of power, and the toxicity of wealth. It’s also a film with a central message: no one can ever truly know who someone is. Kane’s story is told through a series of flashbacks, which all seem to contradict each other. As the faceless reporter interviews these various figures in Kane’s life, we get a different perspective each time. Below, I have posted a movie poster for Citizen Kane, in which different characters throughout the film are shown exclaiming different opinions regarding Kane.
When we first begin these interviews, it feels as though we are going to be presented with the truth and that we, the audience, will have an inside look on Citizen Kane and who the man really was. However, by the end of the film, it is clear that the truth has not been presented. The story is told chronologically, as we know with Kane’s aging appearance, but it seems that some events are left out. Each of the storytellers is telling the story that interests/involves them and not the full truth. At the end of the film, we appear to be handed the “missing piece” to the jigsaw puzzle, with the Rosebud engraved sled. However, was this really the final piece? To me, it seems like there are still pieces missing. It’s a jigsaw puzzle that is impossible to complete. No one can ever know who Kane truly was, perhaps not even Kane himself.
I’m not a searcher this week, but I did want to include an article I found because I found it very relevant to character analysis in Citizen Kane. Link to the article: https://blogs.psychcentral.com/movies/2011/12/citizen-kane/. When watching the story of Kane’s life as well as the stories told by others, I got that the sense that Kane could have narcissistic personality disorder. To me, he appeared to lack empathy, had no ability to love someone other than himself, and was easily upset when things didn’t go his way/he didn’t get what he wanted. After doing a bit of googling, I found the article linked above, which shared my idea and also made some other very interesting points. It is definitely worth the quick read.
I think this theory makes sense with the idea that no one could ever truly know who Kane was. Who is the true person behind the narcissist? Is it possible to know the individual behind that shell? Does an individual exist?
In class, we were asked to think about if/why we feel empathy for Kane’s character, even if we are not rooting for him. I think the story of Kane’s childhood at the beginning of the film, the one story hat I felt I could almost completely believe, helped develop my empathy for Kane’s character. His father is clearly abusive, as he tells Mr. Thatcher (Kane’s future caregiver) that Kane deserves to be beat. The way his father speaks is verbally abusive as well. His mother seems cold and emotionally distant from her son. She tells Thatcher that Charlie’s things have been packed for a while and she says this without any visible emotion. This is unusual for a mother who is basically giving up her son and making him live somewhere else.
I think his childhood is very troubled and this is what leads to his troubled adulthood and the development of his personality. At the end of the film, we see that Kane has died alone, with nothing but material things. In his life, he never obtained any real meaning. Being a human being who does feel empathy and emotion, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Kane and the way he ended up. The film is set up so we see his childhood early on and I couldn’t help but remember Kane’s childhood innocence and what could have been if his circumstances were different.
Perhaps psychoanalyzing Kane’s character goes against the central message of the movie- that we never truly know a person (and there isn’t one piece of information that will give us an answer). However, perhaps that is partially what Welles wanted us to do. The entire story of the film revolves around discovering who Kane was and the meaning behind his final words. It leaves the viewer helpless at the end of the film and accepting of the fact that Kane was just a sort of enigma. Maybe that’s all we can infer and maybe it is supposed to be left at that. Even when we see the Rosebud sled at the end of the film, though other characters are not aware of its existence, is this really some huge revelation? What does it really tell us?