Our man movie series will largely follow the list posted over at Art of Manliness, 100 Must-See Movies: The Essential Men's Movie Library. It is our goal to showcase the value of cinema as a platform for letting story teach us about our world. Culture shapes and molds much of how we view the definition of masculinity. Movies serve as a platform upon which a cast and crew can convey their worldview and message. Movie goers are subjected to these viewpoints, whether cognizant of that fact or not. Our purpose in reviewing the films in this series is to highlight the good and bad of the movie, cross-examining it with what the Bible has to say about manliness.
These posts are in conjunction with the Men's Roundtable Ministry of Grace Church in South Carolina. For more information on Grace Church and MRT, go here: Grace Church Men's Ministry
Today's post is written by my friend Blake Zimmerman. Blake is a husband, father, and fellow film lover.
Search online for the greatest film of all time and most results will point to Citizen Kane. It’s entirely too difficult for me to say it’s the greatest film ever made because there are so many films to choose from. How can you choose the greatest from a list that includes Apocalypse Now, The Searchers, Vertigo, Tokyo Story, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Seven Samurai, Casablanca, Breathless, 8 ½, etc. To me it’s like choosing your last meal or your favorite child. I can’t say whether Citizen Kane is the greatest but it is one of them.
Largely regarded as a breakthrough in modern filmmaking for its techniques in cinematography, editing, lighting and sound, Orson Welles delivered a masterpiece at only 25 years old. Welles co-wrote, directed, produced and starred in the film, which received 8 Academy Award Nominations and won Best Original Screenplay.
The film starts with but a single word: “Rosebud”.
Throughout the course of the movie we are taken on a journey to determine it’s meaning and why a man, Charles Foster Kane, would utter it with his dying breathe. This one enigmatic word that summed up a man’s life made film history. We are invited into the story to discover its meaning and its importance to a powerful and tragic individual.
One of the unique aspects of Citizen Kane is its use of multi-layered narrative. The story is told six times: five by people who knew Kane the best and once by the newsreel. The newsreel provides us with the highlights, but as the creator of the newsreel says “It isn’t enough to tell us what a man did. You have to tell us who he was”. Thus we get five other viewpoints to provide the intimate details of the life and the man of Charles Foster Kane. Charles’ guardian Mr. Thatcher, his business manager Mr. Bernstein, his closest friend Jedediah Leland, his ex-wife Susan Alexander, and his manservant Raymond provide deeper insight into this flawed character through interviews they give to a Hollywood reporter named Jerry Thompson. This narrative structure provides a complex telling of a simple story and gives us a glimpse into Welles' genius. Through the use of this style of story telling Welles is able to provide us with multiple layers and viewpoints, often conflicting. This contradictory story is very similar to the complexities and incongruities of our own lives.
Charles Foster Kane exudes power and charisma. From humble beginnings as the son of poor parents running a boarding house, we watch him morph into a titan of the journalism industry. But as we hear from those who knew him best and examine his life deeper we see that he also harms and eventually destroys, driving everyone away.
“Not that Charlie was ever brutal, he just did brutal things” quips Alexander, his ex-wife. He wielded his power as a newspaper publisher to build a false universe where he was king.
He fabricated newspaper stories to increase his influence. He forcibly gains control of the offices of a rival newspaper. He commits adultery when his first marriage begins to fail. He continually uses his intellect to gain the upper hand in confrontations. He forces Alexander to pursue a vocal profession, and even uses his newspapers to create false reviews in an attempt to prolong a career that was never really alive. In the end when his entire world crumbles, he builds a palace in Florida called Xanadu that he can run to and rule over. It doesn’t take long for us to see the calculating manipulation that Kane employs and to see the tragic end coming before it arrives.
To understand what drives his pursuit of control, we must understand the beginning. Through flashbacks we see Kane’s working class mother who lucks into fortune and then decides to give him up to be raised by her banker, Mr. Thatcher. Kane is happily playing with his sled in the snow outside as his mother and Mr. Thatcher are ironing out the details inside. Charles’ mother chooses to give him up because it seems the only way to protect him from his abusive father. With nowhere else to turn, she chooses to remove him from her and his father’s life. This one brief scene provides us the context with which we can properly interpret the character of Charles Foster Kane.
For the rest of his life he would desperately attempt to find the replacement for the love, security, and happiness he experienced as a child prior to his mother’s abandonment of him.
Charles’ insecurities are rooted in this one moment in which everything he knew was taken from him. For the rest of his life he desperately longs for love and acceptance in his relationships with others. Because of the piercing wound he received, however, he does not allow himself to ever give anything in return. “A toast, Jedediah, to love on my terms. Those are the only terms anybody ever knows - his own”. In Charles’ words he must have love on his own terms, which do not contain even a tiny morsel of selflessness. If he was to love sacrificially, he might lose again. So hurt was he by his mother’s rejection that he never finds his true calling as an image bearer of Christ who knows what it is like to be loved and how to give love in return. In a desperate act of love by his mother, Charles’s own capacity for love is forever crippled. This irony is not lost on the attentive viewer.
If we carefully examine Charles Foster Kane we will see a part of ourselves in this character. Charles was a man of great charisma, power, and wealth. But in his relentless pursuit to gain the power that he wielded to manipulate people into loving him, he also systematically destroyed the relationships he desired.
We are fallen creatures, broken by our own sin and the sin of others. We are walking and talking contradictions.
On the one hand we are called to live and love as Jesus did, but on the other we often pursue the opposite. In seeking worldly security and happiness we often move farther and farther away from it.
If we live like Charles Foster Kane then we let our brokenness trap us in a cycle of both being broken and breaking others. Charles was a man who lived behind the walls of his own making: a man that no one could ever really know or love because of his machinations and his refusal to approach anything that resembled authenticity in his relationships. It’s no coincidence that the final scene in this film is a slow draw out of Charles’ life where the camera focuses on a “No Trespassing” sign.
It is difficult to find love and acceptance if you are unwilling to open yourself up to being known and being hurt. It is impossible to know the true love of Jesus if we demand that it is given to us on our terms.
- Blake Zimmerman