I recently watched the film again on a snowy December day. I had always loved the film, so it was refreshing to see it again after a decade or so since my last viewing. Wells did something special in Citizen Kane released in 1941, he managed to attack a concept that many Americans spend their entire lives pursuing, and that is wealth, and demonstrate that no matter how much wealth a person acquires, it will not buy them love, or any real power.
With the snow falling outside my window, and watching Kane die an old man in his giant mansion built in Florida called Xanadu, which looks to me to be an early vision for what Walt Disney would create 30 years later as the Magic Kingdom, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Kane all over again.
Kane had amassed a tremendous amount of wealth by his 25th birthday from money he received in trust from his legal guardian who raised him after his mother and father essentially sold Kane away for money to a very wealthy businessman. Kane as a five-year old standing in the snow with his favorite snow sled was betrayed by his father, who apparently abused him, his mother, who wanted to protect him from his father, sent Kane to be raised by a self-centered power monger only concerned with profit.
Kane boldly slapped away all his wealth once free of his legal guardian and only wanted to run a newspaper so he could use the paper to fight corruption. Kane was a valiant figure of morality and virtue.
Over time Kane lost his way in the pursuit of love. He loved two women he managed to push away because deep inside, Kane himself had felt rejected and therefore didn’t truly love himself, and thus, could not offer any real love to the women in his life. This pretty much ruined Kane, because over time, he realized he was powerless to truly obtain the things he needed in life because he couldn’t love.
In the end, on his last breath he states simply, “ROSEBUD.”
Rosebud was the sled he had when his mother sold him away, and was his last true recollection of a chance for a real home with a family that loved him, which he’d spend the rest of his life trying to recapture.
What I suppose struck me about this film is the truth of it. Wells hits the nail on the head, and time has proven it. Many critics will argue to this day that Citizen Kane is the greatest motion picture ever made. So there is certainly some resonance to the story, something deep and primal that we can all relate with. Writers are only as good as their experience, and Wells was unique in the way that Disney, Lucas, and Spielberg have been. But not many others in spite of all the study of Citizen Kane in film classes across the country. I think Scorsese came close in the film The Aviator about Howard Hughes, but even the great Scorsese falls short of the surface simplicity, but underlying complexity of Wells. Filmmakers today are just too scatterbrained to make good films. They have elements of good films, but often fall terribly short of the intended result. MTV has changed all the rules, and these days nobody really knows what they are. Quentin Tarantino is the new bench mark for film makers because in Pulp Fiction he demonstrated the ability to tell a story out of order much like Citizen Kane was filmed, and this fed into the short attention spans of the modern MTV audience, conditioned to quick cuts, and non-liner story telling.
This led me to consider our current society. How many Citizen Kane’s are we producing as a society? Because back in 1941, Kane’s story was considered tragic, coming from a broken family like he was. Today it’s common place. Forget about the money. Many of the kids today won’t have a chance to even have Kane’s wealth to stumble through life with. Most of them will be so entrenched with student loans and other forms of debt that they’ll have all the problems of children missing essential guidance from their parents, compounded with excessive money trouble. No one will convince me that parents, who drop their kids off at a day care facility in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon, and barely speak to their kids once everyone gets home, are doing their jobs as parents. The damage to the children is extensive. Everyone just accepts these practices now, but they are really only a few decades old, where both parents are out of the house and kids are being raised primarily by institutions. Once kids get to grade school it’s basically the same routine. Parents are expecting teachers to do the job of parenting, which of course is not possible. Teachers try, but it’s not the same. Kids end up raising themselves for the most part, and now that online gaming, Facebook and Texting make instant communication possible; the parent is a much less significant role in the lives of their children.
I wondered on this snowy December Saturday what the world will be like when all these kids from today grow up and realize they don’t have everything they need from their parents, because in many cases their parents are on their second or third marriages and lived train wrecks of lives that no child would want to emulate.