Citizen Kane Analysis

October 21st, 2010

There is a scene in Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, RKO Pictures, 1941) that depicts the latter half of Kane’s relationship with his wife Susan, and this is a perfect window into the character of Charles Foster Kane, as well as a good reflection of how women were viewed at the time the film was made. The long shots in this scene show the vastness of the huge mansion the couple live in and accentuates the physical and metaphorical space between them, showing the audience the loneliness of Kane’s world, and how the people in his life become empty through him. The clear objectifying of Susan reflects how women at the time, even with the right to vote, were treated inferiorly.

The scene starts with Susan sitting at a table completing a jigsaw puzzle, Kane’s deep voice is then heard echoing throughout the room as he asks “What are you doing?” Kane walks out of lighted hallway and into the dark room as he says this, while Susan puts her puzzle piece down and asks him what time it is. The camera follows Kane until he reaches the table where Susan is sitting, and she mentions that she wants to go to New York. Kane then walks over to the gigantic fireplace and stands directly beneath it, it engulfs him completely, a good example of how everything in his life is so large and yet so empty, representing his larger than life character that is empty inside.  Kane standing beneath this fire place with the fire lit behind him puts him in a position of power. Whereas Susan, sitting down further away at the table, is completely disregarded by Kane when she complains about being lonely and asks to go to New York, his only response being “Our home is here Susan”, talking to her as if she is child.

The next part first shows Kane walking down a huge staircase in shadows, the camera follows him as he emerges out of the shadows and into the room where Susan is doing another puzzle, this time she is sitting on the floor next to the fireplace. The next shot is of her looking up at him as he again asks her, “What are you doing?”, to which she does not respond. The following shot is very long with deep depth of field, Kane is in the foreground and Susan is seen further away, still at the fireplace. Kane makes a remark about her always doing puzzles and how she would not know if she had already completed one or not, as he walks out of the shot. She comments on this saying “Makes a whole lot more sense than collecting statues”,  this shot being a more up close one of her. This particular shot is very crucial to the scene, as Susan makes this remark she is strategically placed right next to one of Kane’s statues, implying that she herself is a statue, just another part of his collection.

There is a shot which is sort of over Susan’s shoulder, her head is in the lower left hand side of the screen and Kane is seen sitting far away in chair submerged in shadows. He says to her “I thought I might have a picnic Susan.” To which she replies, “Huh?” The room is so vast and there is a lot of space between the two characters, they have to yell to communicate and often can’t hear each other, which is a good representation of how communication is in their marriage. Susan is yelling, literally, many times throughout this movie, yet Kane doesn’t listen to her, he merely tells her the way that things are going to be. The shot returns to a more up close look at Susan as she throws down her puzzle piece and complains that she doesn’t want to go on a picnic. Kane simply repeats himself saying “I thought we might have a picnic Susan.” He almost makes it seem like they’re having an actual conversation, engaging her first with the idea of a picnic, but then he makes it clear that it is not really up for discussion and that he has already made the decision.

It is important to note the differences between the two sequences in this scene, which could technically be considered two different scenes entirely, but they seem to go hand in hand in reflecting this particular theme.  The first time they speak, the fire place is lit, indicating that there is still some warmth left in their relationship. In the next part, the fire place is out and Susan is sitting right beneath it, representing how she had become colder through living with Kane. Though there is a lot of space between Susan and Kane throughout both parts, it is more evident in the second part of the scene. In the first part, Kane walks out from a hallway, still on Susan’s level, and she is elevated in a chair, perhaps representing her spirits being more lifted than they are in the next sequence when she is on the floor. Kane approaches her as they talk and the two are physically much closer together in this part.  Their conversation is also somewhat more substantial, it seems less like he is ordering her. In the second sequence, Kane comes down from the top of a long stair case to talk to Susan, and there is a great contrast between their levels.  Instead of walking over to where Susan is working on her puzzle, Kane goes to sit in a chair leaving plenty of space between them.

There is a short montage of Susan completing puzzles in between these two sequences, depicting the passage of time between them. Although short, this is actually a very informative part of the film, in terms of letting the audience know how Susan is feeling. Her puzzles are of nature, of the outside world, where she wants to go but isn’t able to. The puzzles are her only form of escape from her home and the marriage she is trapped in.

During the 1940s, the US was in the middle of World War Two. This was a very important time for women, who had the responsibility of taking over jobs that had previously only been occupied by men, because many men were off fighting. Though this was a turning point for women, who had shown that they were fully capable of achieving things people hadn’t imagined, there wasn’t a completely positive reaction when the war had ended. Most jobs went back to men and women were expected to return to their homes or find a job that was more ‘female friendly’. The mindset that men were above women was still very powerful, and it is heavily shown in this scene. When Kane states, somewhat joking and somewhat judgmentally, that he doesn’t understand why Susan does puzzles, it’s an example of the age old, women are silly and not meant to be taken seriously, way of thinking. When she gets restless of staying in the mansion all day, and asks if they can go to New York, Kane replies “Our home is here Susan.” This line seems to support the idea that women are meant to stay at home, and need to obey their husbands.

Everything in Kane’s life is a victory, even people eventually become part of his collection, something that he has gained and owns. Susan is no different, the way she is almost always shot beneath Kane shows this, and their dialogue reflects the ways in which he is superior to her. Susan is a good example of a woman of the 1940s, she is clearly strong and of her own opinion, but because of the way society functions, she is ultimately unheard by Kane. This scene sets the grounds for Susan leaving Kane, the viewer can see them growing apart, the shadows accentuate the distance between them, the two can barely see or hear each other while having a conversation. Susan is trapped with only her puzzles as a means for escape, and her eventual leaving is hard for Kane to accept for he is nothing if not in control, and the void left by Susan adds to the consuming emptiness inside him.

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