Welles challenges the flawed cultural values of obtaining material possessions as a means for success. He attacks society’s superficial fixation upon wealth, image and celebrities during the early 20th century golden age of Hollywood cinema, asserting it will not result in personal fulfilment.
In the opening newsreel, Kane’s lavish estate is depicted through a series of low angle wide shots of intricate towers and castles, establishing his large wealth.
Subsequent aerial shots depicting his palatial grounds accentuates the extent of his fortune as “so big it can never be catalogued or appraised”.
The newsreel’s purpose to satisfy American society’s interest over Kane’s life and his “private pleasure dome”, is a reflection of their obsession with luxury and status.
The emptiness of Kane’s materialistic goods is seen when he walks through the halls of Xanadu. The extreme wide-shots of his small figure in contrast with the grand statues and expansive rooms highlight his loneliness.
The tragedy of Kane’s materialistic pursuit is portrayed in the slow panning overview of his innumerable possessions, the soft, sombre music revealing that all his material goods were unable to provide true contentment.
This notion of materialistic values leading to unhappiness is emphasised by Andre Wessling’s 2005 paper, The Other Side of the Dream, which states “the American Dream is composed of accumulating material wealth but it simultaneously isolates”.
Power + Corruption
Welles reveals the corrupting nature of power and the tension between one’s personal integrity and material ambitions.
Through Kane’s moral deterioration, Welles attacks the monetary values of the American Dream, arguing that the pursuit of wealth results in the sacrifice one’s of one’s ethics and integrity.
Kane is initially characterised as a noble man through his characterisation of youthful determination, accompanied by bright lighting and his declaration “It is… my pleasure to see the decent hard-working people of this community aren’t robbed blind by a pack of money mad-pirates”.
His desire to become “a fighting and tireless champion of their rights” as he signs the Declaration of Principles, illustrates his good intentions, however he is shrouded in shadow, foreshadowing his impending downfall.
Welles highlights Kane’s manipulation of the media in his dialogue “You provide the prose poems, I’ll provide the war”, revealing his dishonest methods and use of yellow journalism.
After he has built his media empire, an older Kane is shown tearing up his original Declaration of Principles and calling it “an antique”, symbolising his total moral decline as a result of his lust for power and wealth.
The underlying flaws behind the money-focused mentality of the American Dream is reinforced in Robert S. Kryff’s statement that Kane “achieves everything that American culture defines as success… But in his obsessive pursuit of these outward goals, he loses his fundamental integrity”.
Citizen Kane highlights the loneliness and lack of meaningful relationships that stems from Kane’s childhood. Through this, Welles critiques the deterioration of the family unit due to the cultural shift from the “pursuit of happiness” of the American Dream to the prioritisation of financial stability following the Great Depression.
Kane’s childhood scene opens with an extreme wide shot of Kane playing in a snow-covered…