Citizen Kane is a phenomenal film directed by Orson Welles. The plot of the film follows the life and times of Charles Foster Kane, a newspaper tycoon and politician who was born in 1915. Throughout the movie, viewers see Kane’s change in character through the eyes of two reporters who are examining Kane’s life. The reporters must complete the task of finding out Kane’s dying words; the job can only be done by finding those closest to Charles Kane. Through their research, the reporters learn about different situations and people who were connected to Kane and played a big part in his life. The film has remained number one on the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Greatest American Films of all Time since 1998.
The film had a very unique style, but the flow of the narrative is easy to follow and understand. One of Welles’ directing techniques is to use flashback sequences to tell the story in a non-linear manner. The flashback sequences contribute to the ease of following and understanding the story because it feels realistic and like the entire film is one big conversation. While watching it, I often found myself feeling as if I was eavesdropping on the characters having a casual conversation. The story takes place across three states: Colorado, Florida, and New York. These places directly correspond with three significant phases of Kane’s life– childhood, adulthood, and old age. Most of the story occurs during Kane’s adulthood; the director only shows his childhood briefly. The detectives discover that Kane goes from rags to riches when his parents send him to live with Mr. Thatcher, a godfather and mentor figure to Kane.
One of the main reasons the film remains number one on the chart of the best American films is the deep focus shot used throughout the film. Orson Welles invented the deep focus shot, which makes everything in the shot focused. The deep focus shot creates depth because while viewers see the main action in the foreground, they also witness characters in the background walking at a distance. Throughout the film, the camera rarely zooms in on the characters in the background because zooming in would take away this special effect Welles created.
Another unique style choice the director makes is lighting. The director repeatedly uses lightning from a storm to create different light dimensions in the film. The changing light helps reveal and conceal characters to add to the movie’s suspense. Throughout the film, characters are shown or concealed by flashes of lightning in unevenly lit scenes.
Welles also utilizes the montage technique. A montage sequence of flashbacks contribute to the ebb and flow of the story. One montage sequence that shows Kane and Elizabeth’s (his first wife) marriage. The sequence allows the audience to see the nature and progression of the couple’s relationship over time. The progression of their blooming relationship is contrasted by their decaying relationship before the two separated. An important element of the story is that it demonstrates his humanity– Kane is a powerful man, but he still makes mistakes like everyone else.
Kane’s failing marriage is clearly displayed when he later has an affair. He subsequently makes amends with his wife and changes his ways. The audience empathizes with Kane during the heart-wrenching scene when his wife leaves him alone at his estate surrounded with a vast collection of material possessions, but still empty inside. Kane’s depression makes him realize his mistakes and how he only has material things tangible to cling to but no one to share it with. It was too little too late.
Throughout the film, Kane repeats the word “Rosebud.” However, it is not until the end of the film that the audience understands the word’s meaning. Rosebud was the name of the sled that Kane plays with just before his mother tells him that Colorado isn’t the place for him to grow up, he is sent to live with Mr. Thatcher. When he leaves for Mr. Thatcher’s place, he also leaves behind everything known and familiar to him. The scene is significant because it shows that throughout his entire life, Kane is searching for a simpler time. It shows that while he grew in age physically, Kane did not truly move past the mental and emotional pain of that parting. Many people relate to Kane because they have experienced a similar type of pain, hurt, or trauma from a situation or event in their past that stuck with them and impacted the choices they made years later. The connection of the word Rosebud makes this a full-circle moment not only for Kane but for viewers as well.