Citizen Kane

“It is not enough to tell us what a man did—you’ve got to tell us who he is.”

There’s an inherent risk in watching something so lauded, something so heralded as Citizen Kane. In his 1941 review of the film in The New York Times, Bosley Crowther said it “comes close to being the most sensational film ever made in Hollywood.” As with anything, when the hype reaches a certain critical mass it’s easy to become cynical, to wonder if it’s really true—and sometimes, to avoid it out of fear of disappointment.

But for my first film of 2020, I decided to take the plunge.

Dear reader, this film does not disappoint. From opening shot to closing frame, Citizen Kane is simply mesmerizing.

At its core, this is a simple story: the search for the meaning behind a publishing tycoon’s last words. Though we follow Charles Foster Kane through most of the pivotal moments of his life, the story keeps us at arm’s length; we never really get close enough to Kane to know him.

This is one of those films that is technically stunning, not just for its time, but for all time. Unlike the original Star Wars, which was groundbreaking in its day but has now been technically surpassed, you don’t have to suspend belief and put yourself in the shoes of someone watching it when it first came out to appreciate the shadows, ceilings, and camera angles.

But watching as I was, on the first day of 2020, I couldn’t help but find a few similarities between this film and one of 2019’s most lauded films, Martin Scorcese’s The Irishman.

Both are sweeping biographies of their protagonists that cross decades. Frank Sheeran and Charles Foster Kane are, in their own ways, inaccessible and aloof. And ultimately, both films attempt to answer the question, do we ever really know or understand a person? And in the end, what really matters?

“I don’t think any word can explain a man’s life.”

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