Dear Mr. Charles Foster Kane: My only beefs with “Citizen Kane”

I finally watched what many (most?) consider to be the greatest film ever made and, as it is with most things that are hyped almost universally, I couldn’t help but be just a smidge let down by it.

Is “Citizen Kane” a great film? Absolutely. Is it grand and sweeping while still providing an extremely intimate portrait of a man’s search for fulfilling love? Certainly, and it’s even more amazing when you consider when it was made – it literally set the bar that all films about the intricacies of being human reach for, even today.

But a few of the character traits of C.F. Kane bother me the more I think about them. Most of these oddities take place in the second half of the film:

– Why is Kane so taken by the “singer,” Susan Alexander? Is it just her innocence, which presumably reminds him of his own lost youth?

– And furthermore, why does Kane press Susan so ruthlessly into opera when it’s clear she’s not any good at it AND doesn’t enjoy it at all? Is it just Kane seeing Susan as a proxy for himself, pushing higher despite the personal toll? Does he need to see her either succeed spectacularly or crash and burn as he did in his bid for governor? To that point in his life, it seemed the only personal failure he’d had was his run for governor, and it was directly brought down by his relationship, such as it was, with Susan.

– Why does Kane build Xanadu? This may be the biggest character incongruence for me. He wants to be accepted, he wants to be loved (on his own terms, as several of his friends and associates say), he wants to be a man of the people but he goes and walls himself off in this giant, cold, unfinished museum of a place? Is he just that bitter? He tells Susan he doesn’t fancy any more visits to New York, but why? Because Jed broke his heart by writing a bad review of Susan’s performance at the opera house? And why does Kane have beef with Jed anyway, just because Jed wanted to go to Chicago? Because Jed gave him his post-electoral loss post-mortem?

– Couldn’t Kane have just gone sledding in his mid-40s and been done with it? Or couldn’t he have built the world’s largest sledding hill at Xanadu, complete with fake snow? I realize this is simplistic but if he wanted to recapture a lost youth, it seems he went about it completely the wrong way, alienating his friends and building a fortress hundreds of miles away. Even Michael Jackson had a better idea, with his amusement park, petting zoo and entertaining children at his “palace” (putting aside the allegations of sexual impropriety, of course). Is that the point? Did Kane just get it all wrong?

All this said, it’s still a grand old film, but personally, “There Will Be Blood” is a much more believable and thought-provoking version of the classic tale of innocence lost, perverted and twisted into heinous power grabs, presumably as a replacement for love never quite found. I recommend you watch both movies for yourself if you haven’t already.

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