Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
Citizen Kane (1941)
Pages: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

Shortly afterward, Susan becomes his second wife. [Emily and his son conveniently die in a car crash, since the Hays Production Code would never have allowed Kane to divorce Emily or marry while she was still estranged and alive.] Headlines "KANE MARRIES SINGER" dissolve into a post-wedding scene, as Susan and Kane come down stairs as newlyweds, crushed by swarming photographers and reporters. Armed with a cane, Kane fights them off as they force their way through the crowd to an open carriage. One battered photographer from the Inquirer begs:

Reporter: Hey, Mr. Kane, I'm from the Inquirer.
Kane: Huh? All right, fire away, boys. I used to be a reporter myself.

Susan is giggling helplessly, carrying a large bedraggled bouquet of roses tied with a big ribbon. In the backseat of the carriage, Kane responds to a question about his future in politics, implying that politics is through with him. Already, Kane speaks for her - an emerging trait that will eventually drive her away:

Kane: Am I through with politics? I should say vice versa. We're gonna be a great opera star.
Reporter: Are you going to sing at the Metropolitan, Mrs. Kane?
Kane: We certainly are.

With his political career going nowhere after losing the election for governor, he attempts to use his wealth and influence to make his newlywed wife a success. Kane serves as Susan's patron and promotes her as a successful opera singer. As they drive away in the carriage, the headline "KANE BUILDS OPERA HOUSE" dissolves into view - he builds her a $3 million opera house in Chicago.

The front page headline dissolves into a closeup of Susan's fear-stricken face during final moments of backstage preparation for her debut in Salammbo as an opera singer on the Chicago stage of the new opera house. [Producer John Houseman, not composer Bernard Herrmann, wrote the libretto for the fictitious French Oriental opera, based upon Racine's Athalie, Phedre, and others, for the scenes of Susan's debut.] Terrified by the grandiose preparations, Susan is given last minute instruction by her Italian voice teacher - he screams: "No, no, no, no, no." In the absurd scene, final arrangements are hurriedly being made: props are set, Susan's costume is readied, and other players move back and forth to their positions. When the opera begins after an overhead cue light has snapped on, the curtain shadow rises and Susan's pathetic diva voice sings to the audience. The camera leaves the figure of Susan and moves slowly upwards in a vertical boom shot to high above the stage in the flies and catwalk area, where one of two technical stagehands holds his nose to gesture his opinion of her aria - her singing literally stinks. [This famous upward shot, that only seems continuous and unbroken, is an example of an 'invisible wipe'. The middle section between the stage and the high catwalk area is actually a view of an RKO studio miniature model.]

Susan's career has become a test not of her own singing or talent, but of Kane's own power and deluded judgment. His attempts fail miserably when, presenting her at his own theater in a lavish, over-embellished production, the debut performance is depicted as a miserable disaster. Kane enters the door of the dark city room offices of the Chicago Daily Inquirer following the performance where he overhears the staff editors gloating to Bernstein over the self-aggrandizing, favorable, "swell" and "enthusiastic" reviews that have been written about Susan's performance. One of the editors tells Kane that they have obediently covered all angles except one notice that still is to come: "Everything has been done exactly to your instructions, Mr. Kane. We've just two spreads of two pictures..." Kane expectantly wants to read Leland's review of the dramatic merits of Susan's debut.

Kane finds a drunken Jedediah Leland, now the Chicago dramatic critic, slumped over his typewriter, the unwritten review still in the typewriter. Bernstein reads what Leland wrote about Susan's operatic debut performance, before he passed out in an inebriated stupor from a bottle of whiskey:

'Miss Susan Alexander, a pretty but hopelessly incompetent amateur, last night opened the new Chicago Opera House in a performance of - I still can't pronounce that name, Mr. Kane. 'Her singing, happily, is no concern of this department. Of her acting, it is absolutely impossible to...'

Kane rips the review out of the typewriter and dictates what would be the natural, scathing conclusion to what Leland has already written in his critique: "...say anything except that in the opinion of this reviewer, it represents a new low. The performance, as a whole, was..." Kane finishes Leland's notice by usurping his identity and ordering a typewriter: "I'm going to finish Mr. Leland's notice."

A closeup of large letters appears on the screen: "W-E-A-K" as the four letters are pounded into the paper. [The entire rewritten review follows:

...weak and incomprehensible. While it is true that a wealth of training has been expended on the voice of Miss Alexander, the result has been pathetitc [sic] in the extreme, inasmuch as she lacks tonal purity, volume, and the nuances of enunciation so important for the grand opera diva. "LACKS STAGE PRESENCE" Another grave fault in her performance was lack of stage pres-...]

The sound of Kane's typewriter is heard in the background as Leland revives in the inner office and raises his head off his typewriter. Bernstein informs Leland that Kane is finishing Leland's review in the spirit in which the critic had started it:

Mr. Kane is finishing your review just the way you started it - he's writing a bad notice like you wanted it to be. I guess that'll show you.

But Leland wrongly assumes that Charlie is fixing it up. He walks into the outer offices and finds Kane pounding away on a typewriter, writing the conclusion to his own review. In another remarkable deep-focus scene, Kane is in close-up on the left of the screen facing the camera as he taps on the keys of the typewriter. Jed staggers toward him from a distance, approaching him through the entire length of the newsroom.

Kane shows his awareness of his associate's presence behind him with a roll of his eyes. Leland responds to Kane's greeting ("Hello, Jedediah") with: "Hello, Charlie. I didn't know we were speaking." Kane moves the typewriter carriage to the right margin, so that after he answers: "Sure we're speaking, Jedediah - you're fired!" he can accentuate his words with a noisy carriage return to the left margin. This marks the inevitable end of Leland's friendship with Kane.

Reporter Thompson asks Leland why he was fired. In a dissolve back to the hospital, a small image of Kane typing the review is seen in the upper right of the screen for a moment, and then Leland replies to the question - offering a rationale for Kane's insistence that Susan be an opera singer:

Thompson: Everybody knows that story, Mr. Leland, but why did he do it? How could a man write a notice like that?
Leland: You just don't know Charlie. He thought that by finishing that notice, he could show me he was an honest man. He was always trying to prove something. That whole thing about Susan being an opera singer. That was trying to prove something. You know what the headline was the day before the election? - "Candidate Kane found in love nest with quote, singer, unquote." He was gonna take the quotes off the singer.

Leland relates how he never responded to a letter he received from Kane five years earlier, and often thought of Kane's lonely last years at Xanadu - a monumental 'Coliseum':

Leland: Five years ago, he wrote from that place down there in the South, uh, what's it called? Uh? Shangri-La? El Dorado? Sloppy Joe's? What was the name of that place, huh? All right. Xanadu...I guess he was pretty lonely down there in that coliseum all those years. He hadn't finished it when she left him. He never finished it. He never finished anything, except my notice. Of course, he built the joint for her.
Thompson: That must have been love.
Leland: Aw, I don't know. He was disappointed in the world so he built one of his own, an absolute monarchy. It was something bigger than an opera house, anyway.

Shortly thereafter, Leland is led away from the interview by two nurses (whose heads are unseen), after begging for more cigars. And then gives his final words, delivered jokingly, to Thompson about his own mortality - he mentions a young doctor who's "got an idea he wants to keep me alive." [Bernstein's earlier parting words to Thompson, in contrast, reflect a resignation toward old age and death: "Old age, it's the only disease, Mr. Thompson, that you don't look forward to being cured of."]

Second Interview with Kane's ex-wife Susan:

(5) On a return visit to Atlantic City, Thompson returns to a drunken Susan at the cheap El Rancho nightclub (in the same violating movement through the sign - now NOT flashing - and broken skylight - symbols of the decline in Susan's fortunes since Kane's death). [This second camera movement through the nightclub roof is accomplished by a dissolve.] He is able to persuade her to tell her part of the story. At a table amidst imitation-tropical decor, with the jazzy sound of In a Mizz being played on a piano (by uncredited, soon-to-be-famous Nat King Cole), Thompson, with his back to the camera, questions Susan. She remembers that Kane:

was really interested in my voice. What do you suppose he built that opera house for? I didn't want it. I didn't want to sing. It was his idea. Everything was his idea, except my leaving him.

Her flashback tells of her singing lessons, her operatic career, and their final claustrophobic days together at Xanadu. Her ravaged face in the nightclub dissolves slowly to a scene of vocal lessons, where a younger Susan is viewed. She is forced to practice her singing with Matisti (Fortunio Bonanova, a real-life opera singer), her voice teacher and opera coach. In another remarkable deep-focus shot in the vast room, a piano is positioned in the foreground, with Matisti gesturing and instructing on the left and Susan singing off-pitch on the right. In the far background, Kane enters the room through a door and watches the lesson undetected, exerting his domineering presence over the scene. Her music teacher believes she is devoid of talent: "Some people can sing. Some can't. Impossible! Impossible!" Forcefully exerting his will over her lessons, Kane approaches behind Matisti and speaks abruptly: "It's not your job to give Mrs. Kane your opinion of her talents. You're supposed to train her voice Signor Matisti, nothing more." Matisti fears being "the laughingstock of the musical world," believing Susan's shrill and off-key voice is untrainable.

Her disastrous, opening debut performance in Salammbo is seen again, from her recollected point of view. The overhead cue light once again snaps on. As the curtain rises, the subjective camera view looks out at the footlights but cannot see into the dark, hostile void of the audience. Kane sits inexorably in his private box while intently watching the stage down below where Susan, with two huge blonde braids, is a tiny figure in his sight. While Bernstein snoozes, Leland (who tears up the program into little strips during the performance - and promptly gets drunk after the performance) views the opera with disinterest from his vantage point. Reacting as if it is he who is personally humiliated, Kane is startled when he overhears someone's criticism of Susan's singing: "Perfectly dreadful." The finale, in which Susan falls back on cushions, is greeted with scant, weak applause from a bored audience. Kane stands and applauds loudly for her in a one-man standing ovation long after everyone else has ceased.

Back in the hotel room, Susan, with a shrill and vulgar voice, reads Jed Leland's "Stage Review," (the review that Kane had completed). She reacts with furious rage at Kane over the paper's bad review:

Stop telling me he's your friend. Friend don't write that kind of review. All these other papers pannin' me, I could expect that. But for The Inquirer to run a thing like that spoilin' my whole debut...Friend! Not the kind of friends I know. But of course, I'm not high class like you and I never went to any swell school.

A delivery boy delivers an envelope from Leland and as Kane opens it, Susan shrieks at him in a shrill, high-decibel voice for giving Leland a parting severance check of $25,000:

Is that somethin' from him? Charlie! As for you, you ought to have your head examined. Sendin' him a letter tellin' him he's fired with a $25,000 check in it. What kind of firing do you call that? You did send him a check for $25,000, didn't ya?

In the envelope, Leland has returned the check ripped into shreds and a folded-up copy of The Inquirer's "Declaration of Principles" - Kane's idealistic statement that no special interests are going to interfere with the truth. [The juxtaposition of Kane's earlier idealism with his trenchant control over Susan's career are strikingly contrasted here.] As she screams: "What's that?...What?...What is it?" Kane answers her and calls the "Declaration" an "antique." As he rips up the manifesto, Susan demands an end to her singing career but he imperiously orders her to continue her singing. He looms over her:

Susan: ...My singin'. I'm through. I never wanted to do it in the first place.
Kane: You will continue with your singing, Susan. I don't propose to have myself made ridiculous.
Susan: (exasperated, she screams back) You don't propose to have yourself made ridiculous! What about me? I'm the one who's got to do the singin'. I'm the one that gets the razzberries. Why don't you let me alone?

Unable to accept her pleas to stop, he walks over to her, casting a darkening shadow over her frightened face, and again orders her to sing: "...I will not tell it to you again. You will continue with your singing." Susan is unrealistically forced and pressured to continue her operatic career, and in a "montage," the show tours throughout the country, to cities where Inquirer papers are located - Washington, San Francisco, St. Louis, Detroit, and New York. The papers all give her glowing reviews. But her career fizzles out and the show collapses, symbolized by the flickering and blackening of a filament bulb in the cue light, and the slow decline of her voice on the soundtrack, at the conclusion of the dissolving, frenzied, montage display of various headlines from Inquirer newspapers throughout the country:

  • Washington Ovation for Susan Alexander (Washington, D.C. Inquirer)

  • Susan Alexander Opens San Francisco Opera Season (San Francisco, CA Inquirer)

  • St. Louis Debut Scheduled For Susan Alexander (St. Louis, MO Inquirer)

  • Detroit Has "Sell Out" for Susan Alexander (Detroit, MI Inquirer)


Another brilliant example of deep-focus photography in the film is the scene following Susan's terrible New York performance - the sequence of her attempted suicide by taking poison. In her locked room, a bottle of poison, a glass, and a spoon are seen in close-up in the extreme foreground. In mid-range, Susan's head lies in a shadow on the pillow. In the background is the door to the room under which there is a bright strip of light. The sounds of Kane's persistent and impatient pounding on the locked door from outside are heard, as well as Susan's uneven, heavy breathing from inside. He bursts in to find her on the bed. A doctor is summoned, and Kane refuses to accept her deliberate act of suicide, refusing to believe that she would want to leave his world. Kane explains away the facts of the deed as the result of the strain and excitement of preparing for a new opera.

Their relationship has begun to collapse, showing signs of strain under his tyrannical pressure. Susan tells Charlie, who keeps a vigil at her bedside day and night, how her feelings meant nothing to him:

I couldn't make you see how I felt, Charlie. But I couldn't go through with the singing again. You don't know what it means to know that people are...that a whole audience just doesn't want you.

Although Kane responds with words typical of his own struggle to be a political candidate in the face of defeat: "That's when you've got to fight them," he is forced to realize that he can push her no further, and he accepts her request by consoling her (and himself): "All right, you won't have to fight them any more. It's their loss."

He builds her a private castle-mansion in Florida named Xanadu (where lights are aglow), into which they both retreat and isolate themselves. Kane's gloomy, palatial old age is portrayed with hollow tones as he wanders the echoing halls of the cavernous, eerie grandiosity of the monumental Xanadu. In the grand hall, there are two large Egyptian figures and a descending staircase. Susan does not like being forced to live there - imprisoned in domesticity and preserved as if in a museum. In front of a vast imported Scottish Stuart fireplace [that appears normal size at first on account of the deep-focus optical illusion], Susan endlessly assembles a giant jigsaw puzzle of a scenic landscape - her only way to 'travel' and escape to other places. She feels imprisoned and unable to travel to distant places. She grows increasingly miserable, frustrated, lonely, desperate and bored - and misses the excitement of New York.

Kane's voice echos across the huge room as he comes upon Susan at the table: "Jigsaw puzzles?" She asks about the time, unable to distinguish night from day:

Susan: Charlie. What time is it?
Kane: 11:30.
Susan: In New York?
Kane: Hmm?
Susan: I said what time is it in New York?
Kane: 11:30.
Susan: Night?
Kane: Hmm, hmm. The bulldog's just gone to press.
Susan: Well, hooray for the bulldog. Gee! 11:30. The show's are just gettin' out. People are goin' to nightclubs and restaurants. Course we're different, because we live in a palace.
Kane: You always said you wanted to live in a palace.
Susan: Oh, a person could go crazy in this dump with nobody to talk to, nobody to have any fun with...49,000 acres of nothin' but scenery and statues. I'm lonesome.
Kane: Till just yesterday, we've had no less than 50 of your friends at any one time. I think if you look carefully in the west wing, Susan, you'll find about a dozen vacationists still in residence.
Susan: You make a joke out of everything. Charlie, I want to go to New York. I'm tired of being a hostess. (He moves back to an enormous fireplace where he is engulfed by its size.) I want to have fun. Please, Charlie. Charlie, please.
Kane: Our home is here, Susan. I don't care to visit New York.

Later, she is seen assembling puzzle after puzzle (a camel, a snowscape, a turreted house, a country scene, a river with boats and weeping willows, a ship at sea) in a series of dissolves, representing the passage of time. Kane descends his staircase and then at a tremendous distance from her - he inquires about her habit of piecing together jigsaw puzzles:

Kane: What are you doing? Oh. One thing I never can understand, Susan. How do you know you haven't done 'em before?
Susan: It makes a whole lot more sense than collecting statues.
Kane: You may be right. I sometimes wonder. But you get into the habit.
Susan: Not a habit! I do it 'cause I like it.

Kane has planned a garden picnic for the next day - an opportunity for Susan's building tension to explode. Susan mocks his domineering attitude: "Invite everybody. Order everybody and me, and make 'em sleep in tents." The next day, a funeral-like entourage of black cars travels along a Florida beach to the garden picnic spot in the tropical Everglades. [In the opening newsreel, the Gulf Coast is inaccurately described as having "deserts." Notice large birds - prehistoric pterodactyls - flying across the background of the scene. They were borrowed, to save costs, from earlier RKO science-fiction films - either King Kong (1933) or its sequel Son of Kong (1933), and back-projected behind the performers.] Susan unemotionally tells Kane, dressed in a white blazer and sitting in the back seat of one of the Dusenbergs, that he is fundamentally selfish:

You never give me anything I really care about.

A close-up of a black musician singing a bluesy-jazzy song - "It Can't Be Love" - then pulls back to reveal people dancing in an outdoor scene. A pig rotates on a spit. Inside a tent, a bald, overweight Kane and Susan argue, with Susan loudly haranguing her husband about an inability to love:

Susan: Oh sure, you give me things. But that don't mean anything to you.
Kane: You're in a tent, darling. You aren't at home. I can hear you very well if you speak in a normal tone of voice.
Susan: What's the difference between giving me a bracelet or giving somebody else a hundred thousand dollars for a statue you're gonna keep crated up and never even look at? It's just money, it doesn't mean anything! You never really give me anything that belongs to you, that you care about!
Kane: Susan, I want you to stop this.
Susan: I'm not gonna stop it.
Kane: Right now!
Susan: You never gave me anything in your whole life. You just tried to bribe me into giving you something.
Kane: Susan!

Kane stands up, looming enormously over her in a dramatic camera angle shot from below. While they quarrel, the sound of the band music in the background becomes more frantic. Then, he looks down over her, disavowing that he has 'bought' and corrupted her with his wealth:

Kane: ...Whatever I do, I do because I love you.
Susan: You don't love me. You want me to love you. (She mimicks him) 'Sure, I'm Charles Foster Kane. Whatever you want, just name it and it's yours. But you've gotta love me!' (Kane slaps her.) Don't tell me you're sorry.
Kane: (coldly) I'm not sorry.

A woman's screams and cries are heard outside [a subtle auditory cue to Susan's pain].

Kane has become increasingly isolated and lonely as his publishing network begins to weaken and he feels the crippling effects. At Xanadu, Kane is surrounded by dutiful servants and a vast collection of thousands of art treasures from around the world, many still in their packing crates unopened and undisplayed. The things and objects he has obsessively collected surround both him and Susan, but provide only a sense of loss and emptiness. His newspaper chain has also lost its former strength (circulation and popularity), never recovering from the depths of the Depression. His control has been relinquished to Thatcher and Company. Susan finally builds up her courage to leave him, even in the face of his authoritative despotism.

Kane is told by the butler that Susan has been packing her bags in her bedroom since early morning. Susan's bedroom is decorated like a child's nursery, with painted animals decorating the beams (similar to the animals that decorate the grounds of the castle) and doll-house furnishings. Kane feels threatened by her departure and enters her room, slamming the door toward the camera as he asks: "Have you gone completely crazy?"

As he stands facing her [in a number of deep-focus camera shots that show full ceilings], a stuffed, limp marionette doll sits in the left foreground of the frame (paralleling the way that Susan is profiled in tandem as a 'plaything') - symbolic of her mute silence and powerlessness throughout their programmed marriage. He begs for her not to leave, but she rebels one final time - with self-assurance and an assertion of true independence:

Kane: Don't you know that our guests, everyone here, will know about this? You've packed your bags. You've sent for the car.
Susan: And left you? Of course they'll hear. I'm not saying goodbye, except to you, but I never imagined that people wouldn't know.
Kane: I won't let you go.
Susan: Goodbye Charlie.
Kane: (pleading) Susan. Please don't go. No. Please, Susan. From now on, everything will be exactly the way you want it to be, not the way I think you want it, but - your way. You mustn't go. You can't do this to me!
Susan: I see. It's you that this is being done to! It's not me at all. Not what it means to me. I can't do this to you? (smiling oddly) Oh, yes I can.

She leaves him alone in the claustrophobic castle, walking away from him through a succession of doorways. [Her account of her departure is soon followed - below - by Raymond's version of Kane's reaction to her leaving.]

Back in Atlantic City in the half-darkened nightclub, Susan suggests that Thompson speak to Kane's butler Raymond:

Well, if you're smart, you'll get in touch with Raymond. He's the butler. You'll learn a lot from him. He knows where all the bodies are buried.

[Her line is an early example of the "bodies are buried" expression.] The reporter tells Susan that he feels sorry for Mr. Kane and she replies with a twinge of pity: "Don't you think I do?" It is already morning, and the chairs of the nightclub are stacked up and Susan's story is over. As the camera pulls up and away, she is heard saying (without moving lips): "Come around and tell me the story of your life sometime."

Interview with Kane's butler Raymond at Xanadu:

(6) At the end of the film, reporter Thompson visits Kane's castle, Xanadu, marked by a big K on the gate. He talks briefly to Kane's sinister butler/ major domo Raymond (Paul Stewart) who worked for Kane for eleven years. The self-serving Raymond, a black silhouette, calculatedly wishes to be paid $1,000 for telling what he knows. The butler tells Thompson that Kane "acted kind of funny sometimes," and did "crazy things sometimes." Raymond boasts: "I knew how to handle him; like the time his wife left him."

His memory of Susan's departure is parodied by a jolting cut to a screeching white cockatoo flapping off the balcony at Xanadu - a visually startling image. Psychologically shocked by her exit and regressing into an uncontrollable, childlike tantrum, Kane in a robot-like posture violently tears her room apart in a rage [Welles reportedly bruised and bloodied his hands in the scene], methodically smashing her lamp, phonograph, table, curtains, chest of drawers, chairs, bookshelves (with one shelf concealing a bottle of alcohol), bedside stand, and her mirrored dresser. Then he picks up in his hand the clear, snow crystal paperweight that she left behind, views the self-enclosed, peaceful world in silence, and murmurs "Rosebud." [Third Appearance of Glass Ball in Film: This is the same glass ball containing a log cabin in a snowstorm that is held in Kane's hand at the time of death, and is symbolic of his relationship to Susan.] With tears in his eyes, he walks stiffly out of her room past the guests and servants and in front of an endlessly-reflecting full-size mirrored corridor - the various distorted images of Kane represent the different angles from which observers have observed him throughout the film. After Kane passes the mirrored hallway, the camera zooms slightly forward toward the dark, empty glass.

Raymond heard Kane wistfully and calmly murmur "Rosebud" with the paperweight in his hand when Susan left. He remembers that Kane also said 'Rosebud' one other time, when he died (when the glass ball fell to the ground and shattered - symbolic of his death and the end of a relationship with Susan), but Kane "said all kinds of things that didn't mean anything." [In the film's opening scene, Kane appears to be alone when he murmurs his last word and dies. The only one who attends Kane's death is a nurse who later enters the room.] The butler shows Thompson some of the vast treasures that Kane gathered over his lifetime.

In the film's conclusion, Thompson is joined by other newsreel people who have gathered at the estate. As they talk, they walk through the enormous warehouse stacked with crates, furniture, and other possessions. An amazing crane shot tracks their progress through the boxes and statues that are being inventoried (and worth "millions - if anybody wants it"). Various objects ("junk" as well as "art") are identified that Kane collected ("never threw...away"): a 4th century Venus ("$25,000 bucks. That's a lot of money to pay for a dame without a head"), the welcome back cup, one stove from the Colorado estate sale of Mary Kane's properties ("value two dollars"), Susan's jigsaw puzzles ("we've got a lot of those"), a Burmese temple and three Spanish ceilings down the hall, and more worldly goods. [In the entourage that follows along, one glimpses the figure of a hat-wearing man smoking a cigar - future star Alan Ladd, in his film debut.]

The other reporters ask Thompson if he has discovered what 'Rosebud,' the last word on Kane's lips, means: "I wonder. You put all this stuff together...What would it spell? Charles Foster Kane - or Rosebud? How about it, Jerry?" After his rational, intellectual search for its meaning, Thompson replies that he hasn't been successful to the curious questioners?.

Questioner: Did you ever find out what it means?
Jerry: No, I didn't.
Questioner (Man with pipe): What did you find out about him, Jerry?
Jerry: Not much really.

Jerry admits that he has not solved the secret of Rosebud, and that he has been "playing with a jigsaw puzzle." In a symbolic gesture, he puts down an unassembled jigsaw puzzle box. A female onlooker speculates: "If you could have found out what Rosebud meant, I bet that would have explained everything."

Thompson answers more fully, summing up his cynicism about simplifying the complex life of Kane, as the camera slowly moves backward and his voice echoes throughout the vast hall:

No, I don't think so. No. Mister Kane was a man who got everything he wanted and then lost it. Maybe Rosebud was something he couldn't get or something he lost. Anyway, it wouldn't have explained anything. I don't think any word can explain a man's life. No, I guess Rosebud is just a piece in a jigsaw puzzle - a missing piece. Well, come on everybody, we'll miss the train.

Only film viewers in the audience are let in on the mysterious, dramatic meaning of Rosebud after Thompson leaves, moving off with other reporters. The camera now shows the incredible accumulation of Kane's acquisitions over a lifetime. The camera slowly glides over years and years of his pitiless pieces of material goods, looking like a broken jigsaw puzzle, a deserted skyscraper city, or a metropolis when photographed from high above. [Steven Spielberg memorialized this shot in his ending to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), when the crated Ark of the Covenant is stored in another vast warehouse.] There in the piles of possessions are: iron bedframes, an open, wooden toybox (with a few dolls and a picture of Kane around the time of his first marriage), a pile of old newspapers wrapped in twine, a photograph of Kane as a boy with his mother, and a snow sled (that is picked up by a workman). Kane's life appears as a disjointed collection of failed energy to productively use resources.

In the basement beneath Xanadu, workers clear away the vast array of junk and articles. A workman is sorting and crating his possessions near an incinerator, a blazing furnace where items are thrown that are considered junk. The worker with the sled in his hands is told by Raymond, the butler, to toss it into the flames of the incinerator to be consumed, along with an accumulation of other possessions. The words are the final ones uttered in the film:

Throw that junk.

The sled is an enduring and beautiful symbol of Kane's life. The name "Rosebud" (and its decorative, painted blooming flower) is briefly seen on the sled in a close-up before the bonfire's heat warps and blisters the paint and it is consumed by the flames. The two sleds in the film significantly exemplify different aspects of Kane's life:

  • Rosebud: decoratively-painted, placid, pretty, from nature, innocent (from his childhood home and a reminder of his mother)
  • Crusader: metallic, strident, cold and heartless, crusading (received from Thatcher when Kane was taken from his home to be a ward of the impersonal banking interest)

[Does this answer the film's fundamental question? Or is it just another piece of the gigantic puzzle of his life?]

The "Rosebud" sled is a memento from Kane's childhood with his mother, a childhood that was interrupted and abandoned by the opportunities wealth and fortune bestowed upon him. When he glimpsed the snow crystal paperweight on his deathbed, Kane might have imagined the house in the globe was Mrs. Kane's boarding house, and had a fleeting, dim memory of the sled that he loved there. The sled symbolized the innocence, beauty, and love that he lost, the love that eluded him - a dying man's memory of a childhood possession that held special meaning for him.

He also might have remembered his first meeting with Susan where he first saw the globe - she was the one true love in his life (in the words of the El Rancho nightclub waiter: "Why, 'til he died, she'd just as soon talk about Mr. Kane as about anybody"). She wasn't impressed by his wealth - and they experienced a loving relationship until his tyrannical demands led her to abandon him. She left to prove that she could act independently of him (in her own words: "I can't do this to you? Oh, yes I can"). He died an old man, friendless, loveless, but wealthy and able to buy Susan's love, but not truly invested in her. His power and wealth were unable to halt his decline - his crusade to be a trust-busting champion of the people faltered amidst storehouses of wealth and opulence.

In the film's final shots - a symmetrical reversal of the film's beginning images, a dissolve shows the exterior of the Kane's palatial mansion at dusk, panning up with the black smoke of his burning possessions pouring from the chimney of his palace and filling the sky. The smoke of Kane's youth - his sled - disappears into the night sky. The camera pans down the chain-link fence where the sign "No Trespassing" is visible again as it was at the film's start. The film fades out on the "K" of the crest of the Kane estate. The audience is again left on the outside of the wire-fence - back where the story began.

The film's closing credits memorably features clips from the film highlighting or underscoring the footage with each actor's name (from the Mercury Company), ending with the film's actual last line of dialogue from Walter Parks Thatcher (George Coulouris): ("I think it would be fun to run a newspaper"). The credits sequence is accompanied by the sounds of a jaunty, march version of The Charlie Kane Song. After the clips, the remainder of the cast is listed on a single card (white letters on black), with Orson Welles' credit listed last as simply "Kane".

[Note: Film critic and Citizen Kane expert Roger Ebert notably commented that this was a case of blatant "false modesty" by Welles.]

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