Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, USA, 1941)

The story of Kane is told by his former associates, friends and lover in flashback. The narrator is therefore unreliable, which makes it impossible to judge the main character fairly. For example, Kane’s employee Mr Bernstein’s flashbacks make Kane out to be a positive, energetic character, while Kane’s ex-wife Susan Alexander describes his obsession with her success and the loneliness he drove her into. Despite the narrative device Kane is never a flat nor passive character. In fact, he leads a very active life. He gets thrown out of the best universities; spends money frivolously; turns a conservatively-run newspaper into a yellow rag that claims to stand for People’s Rights; marries the President’s niece; runs for governor; gets divorced; marries a woman and forces her into a career to save her face; builds a huge, lavish castle, and spends his last years locked in after his second wife finally leaves him out of loneliness. Despite this, none of the people who have known him for most of his life can really get inside his head. His ex-friend Leland and journalist Thompson come closest; Kane wanted love and loyalty on his terms and lived his happiest moment long before being rich and powerful.

Much of the film is shot from a frog’s eye view to show the ceilings of rooms, creating a sense of claustrophobia and contributing to the realism of the film. I also can’t help but notice the things done with lighting. The only scene where Kane’s mother is seen has most of the characters bathed in shadow. Of course, intrepid journalist Thompson is barely seen, either.

Citizen Kane is one of those movies that suffers from its own excellence. With the movie having endured 70 years of critique, it’s impossible to separate it from its context and review it in a vacuum. The movie was enjoyable the first time, but active watching was undoubtedly a gateway drug to future over-analysis. That being said, even a layman can appreciate Citizen Kane’s status as a groundbreaking film that revolutionized cinematography.

Article by DMuhonen


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