Citizen Kane: A Rosebud By Any Other Name

Former media mogul Charles Kane {Orson Welles, also the film’s director} has it all — a palatial residence in Florida enigmatically called Xanadu, vast amounts of wealth, staffers waiting at his beck and call, a large private zoo, cars, highly priced pieces of art. But then he is withering away; lying at death’s bed. Just as he breaths his last, he murmurs “Rosebud.” The entire story of Citizen Kane is about the mysterious last word of the super-rich newspaper mogul Charles Kane, “Rosebud” and how a reporter researches Kane’s life to find out what that particular word means.

The first 13 minutes of the movie are tough/boring to watch but if you survive those minutes you might find the narrative getting easier by the minute. The movie may not seem great by today’s standards. But the editing is quite sharp, the camerawork is excellent, the sets are impressive, and Orson Welles does justice to the role of Kane. It is a must-watch for people studying the history of English films. The review below contains details of the film’s story so future viewers beware!


English: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During the course of the film, the reporter keeps inquiring about the word “Rosebud”. He pores through reams written about Charles Kane, and chats up people who spend years with the super-rich man. Through the journey of the reporter, the movie traces the rise and fall of Kane as he seeks to be successful and loved on his own terms, beginning from the time the protagonist became the inheritor of a vast fortune to the time he passed away.

He learns how Kane became rich as a child when gold was discovered in the mine owned by his mother and how he preferred working on the newspaper business when he legally took control of the wealth. He finds out about Kane’s romantic idealistic notion of helping the public and how Kane was dejected with the strong negative public reaction to his extra-marital affair with singer Susan Alexander, given the corruption of his political rival. The reporter is told that the publicity from this  affair led to Kane’s defeat in New York State’s governor election, the weakening of his newspaper, and also to divorce from his wife, the President’s niece, Emily Monroe Norton. He notes the circumstances in which Kane parted ways with childhood friend Jedediah Leland. He is informed about Kane’s obsession with the voice of Susan, who he married after his divorce.  He is told how Kane spend large amounts of money trying to make Susan an opera star, his desire to keep her alone with him in Xanadu  and his penchant for buying her expensive gifts and how that marriage too came apart. He comes to know that Kane had said “Rosebud” even in the aftermath of this breakup.

There is nothing more to the story of Citizen Kane or to the word “Rosebud”…it seems. So the reporter gives up on his search and concludes that Kane’s life and character could not have summed up in a single word even if that word was his final message. Of course, away from the reporter’s eyes, the observant viewer is rewarded with the inside-knowledge of what “Rosebud” means and why it is important but you might miss that scene if you blink.

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