Values and themes from the 1941 film Citizen Kane directed by auteur Orson Welles have been critically studied over time. Such notions are the importance of power, the human desire for love and the influence that the media has on society. Citizen Kane follows the life of Charles Foster Kane in his pursuit of power as a newspaper businessman and a public figure while presenting a wide milieu of interpretations and ideas. To the contemporary audience, Welles communicates via a variety of film techniques the notion of the protagonist’s hubris through the looking glass of Kane’s forlorn childhood.
In Citizen Kane, Welles conveys the social concerns of wealth and power, allowing the modern audience an allegorical interpretation of their own society. The majestic “K” of Kane’s Xanadu that symbolises Kane’s power is juxtaposed with the inordinate size of his palace. Leland notions “he was disappointed in the world so he built his own, an absolute monarchy”, hyperbolically illustrating the extent of Kane’s power and wealth. Through various low angle camera shots, Kane is viewed to be powerful such as in his political campaign speech scene where he is framed by a gigantic poster of himself, highlighting his importance. Kane’s influence is also evident through the contrast of his white suit to the dark outfits of his employees. Conveying the notion that “people will believe… what I tell them to believe” drawing the viewers’ attention to his authority. The notions of power and wealth are fundamental aspects that def1ine the film, as well as connect with our contemporary interpretation.
However, modern audiences perceive Welles’ depiction of Kane’s downfall as a criticism of capitalism and of Welles’ society. This idea is supported by critic Robert Ebert. The critic of Capitalism through Kane is apparent in the sarcastic tone “there’s a lot of statues in Europe you haven’t bought yet.” The appearance of strong shadows over Kane’s face as he ages portrays his increasing irrationality suggesting that he believes his material obsession compensates for his inability to control people. Thus the consequences of capitalist principles are evident in the establishing pan over Kane’s possessions and his demise is reiterated by his alienation, as he dies “alone in his never-finished already decaying pleasure palace”. Also, after destroying Susan’s room, he walks into a double mirror in which he is infinitely reflected. Thus illustrating that Kane has become entrapped within his wealth-driven world. Through Kane’s demise, responders are caused to question the moral integrity of Welles’ society as well as their own with regards to power and wealth.
Love and relationships are central aspects of Citizen Kane and appeal to both the modern audience, and audiences of the war era. In the mis-en-scene of Charles’ childhood, the relationship of mother and son is depicted via the ultra-realism of deep focus photography. This allows responders to visualise him through a window in the snow while his mother and Thatcher are making an agreement over his guardianship inside the house. The framing of the window represents his entrapment and inability to have control over his future, ironically conveyed by mother’s comment “[Charles] you won’t be lonely”. In a modern interpretation, the psychoanalyst/feminist critic Laura Mulvey suggests that Kane’s downfall is a direct result of his childhood trauma. The time lapse of the sled, Rosebud, in the snow and its coldness represents Kane’s deprivation of a maternal relationship as well as Leland’s comment “all he wanted in life was love…he just didn’t have any to give” It is thus that both the contemporary audience and the responders of the forties are able to appreciate the importance of maternal connections in shaping one’s life.
Kane’s relationships with his wives are also important in enlightening contemporary responders that love is an essential part of the human condition. The increasingly darker music throughout the montage of the breakfast scene of Kane with his first wife, Emily, reflects their disintegrating marriage. Despite that “he married for love”, Kane’s failure to sustain his first marriage is indicative of his his deprivation of maternal love. Ironically, on meeting his second wife, Susan Alexander, he states; “I was looking for my childhood”. Kane views Susan as a maternal replacement, an impossibility that foreshadows his demise. Deep focus depicts the scene of Susan’s suicide attempt and Kane’s face being the same size as the medication allows the responders to correlate Kane’s accountability. Again Leland notions, “[he] wants love on [his] own terms”. Kane’s failed bonds not only allow the modern-day audience to empathize with him, but also realise the importance of love as a critical value to human nature.
The importance of media in Citizen Kane gives rise to differing interpretations of the truth from both the 1940’s as well as contemporary responders. Historical critic, Sarah Street suggests that the idea of the truth is subjective and this is portrayed through the triple dissolve shots of the Gates, symbolic of the ambiguous representation of the truth. The newsreel “News on the March” gives a realistic chronology of Kane’s life “a potent figure of our Century – America’s Kubla Khan – Charles Foster Kane”. Thompson’s obscured face allows the impression that the interviewees, such as Leland and Susan, are telling their perspective of the “truth about Charles Foster Kane”. The flashbacks of Kane, such as the creation of the allegorical “Declaration of Principles” in which the “citizens…[will] get the truth in the Inquirer quickly, simply and entertainingly…[nothing] will…interfere with the truth” convey the irony of the transitions of misleading headlines. Thus the distortion of truth allows the war era audience and the modern audience to assess the pitfalls of the mass media.
The film explores the notion that the truth of a person are often are parts of a great whole. As a result, modern audiences are compelled to critically reassess their values regarding truth. The recurring motif of jigsaw puzzles throughout the film is reminiscent of Kane’s last words “Rosebud”. To Kane, “Rosebud was something he couldn’t get or something he lost…a [missing] piece in a jigsaw puzzle”. Although responders are able to interpret Rosebud to be his lost childhood and the deprivation of maternal love, we can also conclude that the jigsaw represents Kane’s life; every piece is a fragment of truth in his life. Like modernist critic Robert Carringer, contemporary responders interpret the extreme close-up shot of the snow globe’s broken fragments as a jigsaw, to symbolise the disordered “psychic wholeness of Kane”. Moreover, the snow globe and the Rosebud sled burning up in flames depict the trauma of his childhood. Thompson further comments, “[no] word can explain a man’s life”. Consequently, as the film progresses and reveals the life of Kane, contemporary responders perceive truth to be comprised of multiple parts.
The 1941 film Citizen Kane directed by Orson Welles cinematographically present a vast milieu of themes such as human relationships, media influence in shaping the truth and the value of power. As the modern audience, we are able to appreciate the multiple facets of Kane’s rise and demise; a looking glass through which we are able to perceive the lonely man’s hubris in searching for his lost childhood.