For decades it has been proclaimed as being ‘the best film ever made’ and 75 years later it still has a claim to that title. Though back in 2012 Hitchcock’s ’Vertigo’ was voted to the top spot, for me Kane still holds the spot for one simple reason, “rosebud.”
Perhaps one of the most powerful and resounding words in all of cinema yet it is never one we see on a list of best movie quotes as that isn’t what it is. People remember “we’re going to need a bigger boat” and “you’ll regret it…” off the top of their heads, as they are catchy quotes and can be slipped into a chat with anyone. But “rosebud” has a meaning behind it, an idea, an emotion to which every person can connect, but is that emotion the same for everyone?
No, as just like the film itself it is completely subjective but it works for everyone’s morals and experiences. While I saw a story of lost childhood and a tale of a boy being forced to grow up and shed that innocence children have. My friend, Tom, saw a boy who was taken from his home, grew up without a family and just pined to have grown up with a mother and a father. Now, you could certainly argue that our views while different are along the same lines and you would be right, but what if someone says something different? What if a certain Presidential candidate says the key is Kane’s rise to power and wealth? Is Mr. Trump wrong? No but in a sense he is as the film doesn’t celebrate Kane’s rise, as Trump believes, but in fact celebrates his downfall.
Okay, maybe “celebrate” is the wrong word but the film is certainly about Kane’s downfall; you can have the wealth to build your own kingdom, to buy every statue you want but he still could not obtain his rosebud. At his height he championed the rights of the workers, he built an opera house for his wife to perform but they just made him isolated from them. Was he a man who had something to say or a man who wanted to be heard?
While the former is true I think the latter is the truer as he never once says “rosebud” to anyone, he is heard on his deathbed saying it but that is coincidental. The only person who ever hears him say it, is us, the viewer. For all his work for the little man he was never able to impart the wisdom that stayed with him throughout his life. Not to his best friend and not to those closest to him, while they might have heard him say rosebud, they most certainly never found out what it meant.
Though was it ever Kane’s intention to tell them or anyone else about rosebud as throughout the film he is spoken as a man who starts several things but never finishes any. And the one time that he does finish something it is a review that his best friend starts but he finishes in the style his friend would have done, mocking his wife’s performance at the opera. Though this is an important insight into the man, as he embraces this opportunity to say what he thinks of his wife in this cover as another writer. He made his wife continue to perform an opera that she didn’t want to, so that he would not be ridiculed for a wasted venture, even one he does not believe is any good. As he was told what he wanted and had that life forced on him which is now leading him to do the same. Even though he knows that it will not bring joy to the person, perhaps that is what he wishes.
Joy, it is a state we don’t often see Kane in during the film. I would say we only see him in that state 3 times during the film; when he is a boy in the snow, when he sets out his promises for his paper, and when he meets she who becomes his second wife. Now this is not to say for the rest of the film he is always sad or not happy, he is obviously happy at other points. But these are the counterpoints that match the falls of his life and are part of his integral rise.
And that counterpoint of events if what makes this film feel so human and personal, as it goes up and down, as life does but it seems to go down deeper than the ups ever rise. But when we get to the end of the film we begin to realise what was seen as his rise was in actual fact his very downfall. Something that he spent his entire life trying to escape from, getting recognition from others rather than from within.
One thing I find very interesting is that at the end of the film we see that rosebud was in his possession the whole time. And I’m not quite sure what to make of that, did he know about it? If so he chose to leave that part of his life behind and not go back to it, which might seem counterintuitive to all he has done in the film. But it makes a kind of morbid sense as to go back would be to lose all he had gained and make what he had achieved in his life redundant. But if he did not know about rosebud being in his possession, he collected so much that he never had the time to find it, to appreciate what he had, so his own greed that was instilled in him once again tore him from the life he once had.
So I implore you to watch Citizen Kane if you get the chance, as 75 years later it is still one of the best films ever made.
This article was kindly contributed to us by Duncan Cushenan.
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