Film Analysis

October 22nd, 2010

For my analysis, I decided to use the flashback scene from “Citizen Kane,” in which Mrs. Kane grants custody of her son to Mr. Thatcher. Citizen Kane, released on May 1, 1941, is the product of Orson Welles’ contract with RKO Pictures, giving him total control of the movie. It is considered by many to be one of the greatest films of all time. In my opinion, there are a lot of themes in the movie, some of which are shown in this scene, which relate to World War II. There is a sense of isolation and loneliness, as well as poverty. During the scene, Mrs. Kane is relinquishing control of her child, and the impression is that Charles’s childhood is coming to an end. All of these themes would have been familiar in the early 1940’s to those dealing with the effects of the war.

The scene starts with a young Charles Foster Kane playing in the snow, a solitary dark figure completely surrounded by whiteness. The camera  effects used in the first shot give the impression of a blizzard. This  gives the impression of the solitary figure all alone in the chaotic blizzard. Then, the action cuts to a long shot, which starts outside and then pans across the Kane’s house. Interestingly, when the camera pans across the room, the table splits open so that the camera can go through it, and then is put back together in time for it to show up in the shot. That’s why, if you look very closely, you’ll notice that, as they sit down, Mr. Thatcher’s hat shakes. In this shot, Mrs. Kane signs the papers, despite near constant protest from her husband.  Before  she signs the paper, the camera shoots her as she gulps. The viewer now feels that she is not sure of her decision. In the next shot, which is another long shot, Kane’s parents explain to him that they’re sending him away to live with Mr. Thatcher, to which he responds very negatively.  In the next shot, there is a close-up of Kane; which is done for dramatic effect, as the viewer feels his pain and anger at being sent away. In the  last shot of the scene, the viewer sees Charles’ sled, as it remains in the snow, and is buried and forgotten.

One of the interesting shooting techniques is that in the middle of the scene, though the parents and the banker are the central action , the window always remains in the middle of the shot. In that way, the camera makes the boy, though he is outside of the room, the central character. It is also fascinating, how the parents open and close the window several times, alternating between showing the mother’s concern for their son and the father closing the window, and as such turning his back on him.

As I re-watched the scene, one element became clear. In the first long shot, Mr. Kane is wearing light clothing, whereas Mrs. Kane and Mr. Thatcher are wearing black. This gives the impression that Mr. Kane is a good guy, and the others are not-so-good guys. In the next shot, Mr. Kane has put on a black jacket and hat, and Mrs. Kane has snow in her hair. This kind of reverses the portrayal of the characters. I believe that the 2nd long shot is done as young Kane’s point-of-view, how he sees the other characters, and it is clear that he does not see his mother as the villain, his father is more the villain.

Another element that should be mentioned in the scene is the background music. As the scene begins, the only background sound is the snowstorm, but after the mother signs the papers, music with a sinister quality begins. At the end of the scene, when the sled remains, the music changes, and it almost sounds like there is screaming in the background. This music could relate to the pain or screaming of the young boy far away or perhaps to the victims of the war in Europe who were being killed.

As I said before, there are many themes in the scene that relate to World War II, which was occurring at the time of the film’s release.  The first starts at the very beginning of the scene when the boy is shown as a solitary figure in a huge backdrop of a blizzard. This relates to the chaos of the world, and the feeling of isolation felt by individuals and countries as the war waged on. Another central theme is of a mother signing away her child, a concept that is foreign to us today but in the time that this  film was distributed, during the Blitz  and the Holocaust, this happened fairly regularly. Parents were sending away their kids, and giving them to other families to save them. To the children, this may have caused the pain and anger the viewer sees on the child’s face, but in reality it was a sacrifice that the mothers were making to protect them. In the conclusion of the scene, the sled is abandoned and buried in the snow. This appears to be a reference to Charles leaving his childhood behind, and in fact the death of his childhood. This would be true of many who grew up in the 1940’s. The war took away their childhood, and as the toys lay abandoned, it meant that if they were fortunate enough to survive the war, they would need to shoulder adult responsibilities at too young an age.

In addition to the theme of the war, there is the  theme of the class system – the haves and have nots. In the scene, it is clear that the Kanes are poor people, from their clothing, their home, and the one toy which is the sled. In contrast, Mr. Thatcher in his high hat is portrayed to be quite wealthy and the divide between the two sides is great. I n 1940, the United States was experiencing tremendous unemployment with a rate of  14% unemployment, according to answers.com. Therefore , there would have been may who were experiencing poverty, and would have been interested in the difference in the worlds of the two classes.

Citizen Kane is a great film, which has endured for many years. There is a great entertainment and educational value in the film. Interestingly, there is also much to be learned from just one scene. In the flashback scene that I chose for the paper, there is a tremendous amount of relevance to the chaos of the times. The dilemma of this family is symbolic of  the troubles of an entire world.

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