Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane

I feel like one of the reasons that Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane has endured as one of the greatest films ever made is the beautiful ambiguity that leads every viewer into making their own sense, reason and emotional clarity out of how it ends. This is a wonderful film that would still turn heads, stir hearts and haunt perceptions even if it was released today and considering both how much time has passed since its 1941 release and how many other films have been made and influenced by it since it’s a test to the imagination and inspiration of its creators how much power it still has. On the surface it’s about a splintered, conveyer belt ride of memories tied to newspaper publishing tycoon Charles Foster Kane, a character based loosely and, it now seems, rather dubiously on real life magnate William Randolph Hearst by writer Herman Mankiewicz. Maybe the reason I held out so long in seeing this film was that the description above, in itself, doesn’t sound like the most riveting film on earth. The life of a newspaper publishing giant? I mean.. thing is, that’s not what the film is actually *about*, in the elemental, essential way that matters and makes a lasting impression. Welles himself plays Kane at various stages of his life from blustery young idealist to confident middle aged man with fervent political ambition to disillusioned old codger with a ramshackle marriage, busted dreams and a giant hollow mansion atop an impossible hill where he haunts himself, saturated in a kaleidoscopic fever of memory. His final words before he dies are “Rosebud,” uttered from a twisted mask of anguish, regret and… something else, something intangible I couldn’t quite read from his expression and tone, but it’s there and it sticks with you. His final moments are tied to a core memory he has of being a young boy in the wintry country with is family, maybe the last truly carefree and idyllic recollection he has? In any case this film isn’t just a hazy biopic, character study or historical treatise, it’s something that lingers in a way I couldn’t possibly describe here, a theme and hallowed undercurrent that goes beyond the language of narrative drama. Rosebud meant something deep and personal to Kane, and the beauty of it is it will mean something different to each viewer. Great film.

-Nate Hill

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