Meaning in “Citizen Kane”

Posted on 24th September 2003 by Ryan Somma in Mediaphilism

The introduction and conclusion of “Citizen Kane” serve as bookends to the many observations of a man’s life. They encapsulate the film’s dark tone, and emulate the varied aspects of power and wealth. The two sequences also offer two perspectives of the same material in life and death.

Moving up from the “No Trespassing” sign and over the chain link fence, slowly fading through shot after ominous shot toward Xanadu’s center, the audience becomes an intruder, a voyeur, sneaking in for a peek at the king in the castle. The snow in Kane’s orb swirls in his room, creating a magical effect. Kane remains abstract at this point, faceless, a shadow.

The opening newsreel blares onto the screen, taking us through an eclectic array of images to associate with Charels Foster Kane. We are shown statues from his massive art collection, his sprawling castle at Xanadu, and the exotic animals from his zoo. The announcer’s energized narrative enhances the excitement of Kane’s life as a fantastic spectacle, involving peripheral characters as diverse as Theodore Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler.

This dynamic pace contrasts with the slow, purposeful crane-shot survey of all his belongings at the film’s end, a sprawling forest of boxes and debris. The opening’s energetic parade now forgotten in the baleful musical score, we are brought to the incinerator’s menacing flames. Our understanding of Kane at this point adds weight to the tragedy, a real man, not the overly hyped giant we meet in the beginning.

We return to the same shot of the dark castle, now absent the light in the window. An unrealized desire to recapture his youth tragically billows more ephemeral darkness into the sky, as the monetarily worthless aspects of Kane’s life burns away, forever lost to the celebrity reporters. We pan down the chain link fence to the “No Trespassing” sign as if climbing down and watch from a distance at Xanadu’s entrance once more.

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