Citizen Kane
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"Citizen Kane" Summary

By Orson Welles

classics | Published in NaN

This is a companion to Citizen Kane - the film that was designed to shock (Kenneth Tynan) - one of the best-known movies in the history of Hollywood. Not only was it Orson Welles's first film as actor and director but most of the cast were also new to the cinema. Yet so controversial was the subject matter that an 842,000 US dollar bribe and concentration wrath of the Hearst newspaper empire combined in an attempt to strangle its distribution. The authorship of the film is still a subject of conflict. Pauline Keal's essay, Raising Kane, dissects a maze of Hollywood lore to re-evaluate these and other stories about the making of this film. Her account is followed by the original screenplay, illustrated with over 40 stills and frame enlargements, together with notes on the difference between the script and the final film.


Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

A newspaper magnate's rise to power and subsequent downfall is explored through the lens of a journalist's investigation.


"Citizen Kane" is a classic American film directed by Orson Welles and released in 1941. Regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made, it tells the story of Charles Foster Kane, a wealthy newspaper magnate whose life becomes a mystery after his death. Through a series of flashbacks and interviews, the film explores the enigmatic nature of Kane's character and attempts to uncover the meaning behind his dying words, "Rosebud."

Brief Synopsis

The film opens with the death of Charles Foster Kane, the wealthy and powerful owner of a newspaper empire. As Kane takes his final breath, he drops a snow globe and utters the word "Rosebud." A newsreel producer, Jerry Thompson, is assigned the task of investigating the meaning of "Rosebud" by interviewing those who knew Kane.

Through a series of interviews with Kane's former associates, friends, and family members, Thompson reconstructs the life of this influential figure. The film delves into Kane's childhood, his rise to power, and his complex relationships with those around him. As Thompson digs deeper, he finds that Kane's public persona was just a facade, and there is much more to the man than meets the eye.

The various perspectives of those who knew Kane paint a portrait of a man driven by ambition and a desire for control. We learn about his failed marriage to Emily Norton, his political aspirations, and his controversial journalistic practices. As Thompson uncovers more about Kane's life, he becomes increasingly fascinated by the mystery of "Rosebud" and its significance to Kane's final moments.

Main Events

Chapter 1The film opens with the death of Charles Foster Kane and the mystery surrounding his dying word.
Chapter 2Jerry Thompson is assigned to investigate the meaning of "Rosebud" by interviewing Kane's acquaintances.
Chapter 3Thompson interviews Kane's former associates, including his business manager, Mr. Bernstein.
Chapter 4Thompson learns about Kane's childhood and his acquisition of the newspaper empire.
Chapter 5The film delves into Kane's failed marriage to Emily Norton and his political aspirations.
Chapter 6Thompson discovers the controversial journalistic practices employed by Kane.
Chapter 7The investigation leads Thompson to Susan Alexander, Kane's second wife and former opera singer.
Chapter 8Thompson uncovers the truth about the meaning of "Rosebud" and its significance to Kane's life.

Main Characters

  1. Charles Foster Kane - The wealthy newspaper magnate and the central figure of the film. Kane is a complex character driven by ambition and a desire for control.
  2. Jerry Thompson - The newsreel producer assigned to investigate the meaning of "Rosebud" by interviewing those who knew Kane.
  3. Mr. Bernstein - Kane's loyal business manager who provides insight into Kane's rise to power.
  4. Emily Norton - Kane's first wife, whose failed marriage with him is explored in the film.
  5. Susan Alexander - Kane's second wife and former opera singer, whose relationship with Kane becomes a significant part of the investigation.

Themes and Insights

The Illusion of Power and Wealth

"Citizen Kane" explores the idea that power and wealth can become inherently meaningless when they are pursued for their own sake. Kane's ultimate pursuit of control and influence leads to isolation and a loss of genuine human connection.

The Complexity of Human Nature

The film delves into the complex nature of humanity, showcasing the contradictions and layers that exist within individuals. Kane is a multi-faceted character, portrayed as both a charismatic leader and a deeply flawed individual.

The Elusiveness of Truth

Through the investigation of Kane's life, the film questions the possibility of ever truly knowing someone. Each interviewee offers a different perspective on Kane, highlighting the subjective nature of truth and the limitations of memory.

Reader's Takeaway

"Citizen Kane" is a thought-provoking film that delves into the complexities of human nature and the pursuit of power. It challenges viewers to question the true meaning of success and the impact of our choices on our relationships and personal fulfillment. The film's innovative storytelling techniques and strong performances make it a timeless masterpiece that continues to captivate audiences to this day.


"Citizen Kane" remains a cinematic masterpiece that has stood the test of time. Orson Welles' direction, coupled with the film's innovative narrative structure and compelling performances, has solidified its place in cinematic history. The exploration of power, wealth, and the complexity of human nature makes "Citizen Kane" a must-watch for any film enthusiast. Through its enigmatic portrayal of Charles Foster Kane, the film leaves viewers contemplating the true nature of identity and the significance of life's final moments.

Citizen Kane FAQ

  1. Who is the author of 'Citizen Kane'?

    The author of 'Citizen Kane' is Orson Welles.

  2. What is the genre of 'Citizen Kane'?

    'Citizen Kane' is a drama film.

  3. When was 'Citizen Kane' first published?

    'Citizen Kane' was released on September 5, 1941.

  4. What is the plot of 'Citizen Kane'?

    'Citizen Kane' follows the life of Charles Foster Kane, a wealthy newspaper magnate. The film explores his rise to power and the consequences it has on his personal and professional life.

  5. Is 'Citizen Kane' based on a true story?

    While 'Citizen Kane' is not a direct adaptation of a true story, it is believed to have been inspired by real-life figures such as William Randolph Hearst, a prominent newspaper publisher.

  6. What are some notable themes in 'Citizen Kane'?

    Some notable themes in 'Citizen Kane' include the pursuit of power, the corruption of wealth, and the loss of innocence.

  7. Who are the main characters in 'Citizen Kane'?

    The main characters in 'Citizen Kane' include Charles Foster Kane, Jedediah Leland, Susan Alexander Kane, and Mr. Bernstein.

  8. Is 'Citizen Kane' critically acclaimed?

    Yes, 'Citizen Kane' is widely regarded as one of the greatest films ever made and has received critical acclaim for its innovative storytelling and cinematography.

  9. Has 'Citizen Kane' won any awards?

    'Citizen Kane' was nominated for nine Academy Awards and won the award for Best Original Screenplay.

  10. Where can I watch 'Citizen Kane'?

    'Citizen Kane' is available for streaming on various platforms like Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu. It may also be available for rental or purchase on online movie platforms.