Just How Close Are They?
Jed Leland is Charles Kane's best friend—er, coworker—er, enemy?—er, frenemy?—er, brother figure?—er, lover?—in the whole wide world.
The only thing we know about his life before meeting Charles we learn from Bernstein, who sums things up by saying,
BERSTEIN: Mr. Leland never had a nickel. One of those old families with a father that's worth ten million and then one day he shoots himself and it turns out there's nothing but debts.
We also find out that Jed met Charles in university, although it might be better to say universities, since Kane was kicked out of many schools and Leland followed him every time he went to a new one.
Some people have even wondered if Charles and Jed got kicked out of so many schools because the two are romantically involved when the cameras aren't on them. Being in a gay relationship would have immediately gotten someone kicked out of school back in the days of Citizen Kane.
And if you still don't believe us, just take a look at the lonnnnnnggggg stare that Kane and Leland share when they first go into the offices of The Inquirer. Yowza!
Kane's Toughest Critic
More than any character, Leland is willing to call Kane out when he's acting selfishly or being a hypocrite. After all, Kane spends a lot of late nights at the paper with Leland and the two of them share a pretty intense gaze early in the movie. In the earliest days of The Inquirer, everyone is happy about Kane's commitment to social justice. But Leland is the only one who realizes that this commitment might be more about Charles' ego than the cause he's fighting for.
When Charles talks about how he'll help the working class, Leland notes,
LELAND: That's the second sentence you've started with 'I.'
And when Charles finishes writing his declaration of principles, Leland adds,
LELAND: When you're through with that, I'd like to have it back. I'd like to keep that particular piece of paper myself. I have a hunch it might turn out to be something pretty important.
Of course, we know that he holds onto this document so he can later throw it in Kane's face and show him how far he's fallen as a man.
By the time he's ready to get fired from Kane's newspaper, Leland can hardly do anything but criticize Charles. As he accurately states to him,
LELAND: You don't care about anything except you. You persuade people that you love them so much that they ought to love you back. Only you want love on your own terms. It's something to be played your way, according to your rules.
Of course Leland is right, but Kane doesn't want to hear the truth. He wants people who will just say, "Yes sir!" to everything he wants. In the end, it's clear that Leland attempts to save Kane has failed, and their close friendship dissolves as a result. Leland is so crushed by the failure that he becomes an alcoholic and lives out the rest of his days without any real purpose.
In Leland's case, Kane's downfall ruins both his life and the lives of people who wanted something better for him. The really sad thing is that at the end of his life, Kane writes to Leland and asks for his company, but as Leland tells us,
LELAND: I never even answered his letter.
So Jed might have been a really great friend at one point, but it looks like he's not the kind of guy who can easily forgive the kind of betrayal Kane threw down on him. So if you're still looking for some sort of redemption in this flick, you ain't going to get it from Leland.