NARRATOR: Kane's empire, in its glory, held dominion over thirty-seven newspapers, thirteen magazines, a radio network. An empire upon an empire. The first of grocery stores, paper mills, apartment buildings, factories, forests, ocean-liners—an empire through which for fifty years flowed, in an unending stream, the wealth of the earth's third richest gold mine.
As the radio announcer tells us, Charles Kane's fortune used to be one of the biggest in the world. He owned nearly everything there was to own, which just makes it all the more crushing when he squanders most of it on statues and his giant mansion, Xanadu.
KANE: You see, I have money and property. If I don't defend the interests of the underprivileged, somebody else will—maybe somebody without any money or any property. And that would be too bad.
Charles Kane sees himself as the savior of ordinary working people who are being exploited by the rich. He thinks he can be this person because he has all the wealth he'll ever need to wage war on the rich folks of America. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to realize that people's rights aren't a gift he can give to them out of generosity.
BERNSTEIN: It's no trick to make an awful lot of money if all you want is to make a lot of money.
Thompson seems to think that Thatcher is a smart man because he made a lot of money, but Bernstein disagrees. He thinks that making money isn't that hard if it's the only thing you care about. The thing is that most people care about other things like friends and family, so they try to lead balanced lives and don't end up getting rich.
BERNSTEIN: He never knew there was anything in the world but money. That kind of fellow you can fool every day in the week—and twice on Sundays!
Bernstein is convinced that deep down, people who only care about money are actually pretty stupid. After all, focusing on money all the time makes them blind to anything else, and people who are blind are really easy to trick.
SUSAN: What's the difference between giving me a bracelet or giving somebody else a hundred thousand dollars for a statue you're going to keep crated up and never look at? It's only money. It doesn't mean anything.
Susan is sick of Kane acting as though people's love can be bought and sold if he just has enough money. But in her mind, money hardly means anything once you have enough to live on. In her mind, "It doesn't mean anything," no matter what Kane might think.
SUSAN: That's what it's been from the first moment I met you. No matter how much it cost you—your time, your money—that's what you've done with everybody you've ever known. Tried to bribe them!
Susan thinks that the only thing Kane has ever done is try to bribe people to love him. That's because he doesn't understand the idea of a true give-and-take with other people. He needs everything on his own terms, and money is his way of trying to get everything this way.
SUSAN: They haven't been tough on me. I just lost my money. But when I compare these last ten years with the twenty I spent with him—
Thompson thinks that times have been tough on Susan Alexander because she lost her entire fortune. But she doesn't seem to mind it all too much. In her mind, the worst years of her life (with Kane) were also the richest, so there's not much of a connection between money and happiness for her.
ASSISTANT: "Venus," Fourth Century. Acquired 1911. Cost twenty-three thousand. […] That's a lot of money to pay for a dame without a head.
It's not quite clear why Kane spent so much of his money acquiring art. But when he dies and movers start packing up his stuff, they think it's all just a waste of money because none of it is practical. It's almost as if Kane spent his life trying to buy an object that he never managed to find… like Rosebud.
NARRATOR: How, to boarding housekeeper Mary Kane, by a defaulting boarder, in 1868 was left the supposedly worthless deed to an abandoned mineshaft: the Colorado Lode.
We learn that Charles Kane inherited his great fortune from his mother, who was given a supposedly worthless Colorado mine by a person trying to pay off his boarding debt. Well the mine turns out to be worth a ton of money, and Charles' mother thinks she's doing the right thing by sending him away so he can be raised with a good education. The problem is that in the process, she deprives him of the love that a growing child needs.
THATCHER: Yes. My firm had been appointed trustees by Mrs. Kane for the fortune, which she had recently acquired. It was her wish that I should take charge of this boy, Charles Foster Kane.
There's little doubt that Charles Kane's exile from home at a young age has a big effect on his personality later in life. After all, he spends his whole life trying to get back the love and innocence he lost as a boy. But since he only knows the world of money, he tries to use money to get people's love… and it never works.
NARRATOR: Denver's Bonfils and Sommes; New York's late, great Joseph Pulitzer; America's emperor of the news syndicate, another editorialist and landlord, the still mighty and once mightier Hearst. Great names all of them—but none of them so loved, hated, feared, so often spoken—as Charles Foster Kane.
As the narrator tells us, there are many great wealthy men in America. But none of them provokes so much love and hate as Charles Foster Kane. If it was Kane's mission to be spoken about, he succeeded. Unfortunately, his mission was to be loved—but he ended up making just as many enemies as he did friends.
RAWLSTON: Here's a man who might have been President. He's been loved and hated and talked about as much as any man in our time—
As the newsreel director says, Charles Kane could have been president at one time. But he messed it all up just like so many mighty men have throughout history. One of his biggest problems, of course, was assuming that people would love him if he threw a lot of money around and tried to help the "working man."
RAWLSTON: That manager of his—the little guy, Bernstein, those two wives, all the people who knew him, had worked for him, who loved him, who hated his guts—
As Rawlston tells us, there were a lot of people who were close to Kane and were supposed to love him. But things didn't work out that way in the end, because as he got older, Kane got a lot tougher to be around.
BERNSTEIN: He finished it. He wrote the worst notice I ever read about the girl he loved. We ran it in every paper.
Maybe Kane loves his wife Susan and maybe he doesn't. But he sure deals her a crushing blow when he takes his friend Leland's review and finishes it the way Leland wanted it. Maybe he's trying to show how honest he can be, but Kane runs a review that absolutely pans his wife and basically trashes her career.
LELAND: That's why he did everything. That's why he went into politics. It seems we weren't enough. He wanted all the voters to love him, too. All he really wanted out of life was love.
According to Leland, all Kane ever wanted out of life was love. But his concept of love was warped from a young age by always having an infinite amount of money to throw around.
LELAND: That's Charlie's story—it's the story of how he lost it. You see, he just didn't have any to give. He loved Charlie Kane, of course, very dearly—and his mother, I guess he always loved her.
Charlie Kane wanted love, but he didn't know how to give any himself. For him, love was something he could go out and "get" in the same way he could get a statue or a newspaper.
LELAND: You want love on your own terms, don't you, Charlie—love according to your own rules.
According to Leland, Charles Kane is totally incapable of letting himself be vulnerable with another person. He needs everything on his own terms or else he goes to pieces. And that's just the problem, because he desperately wants love but has no clue how to love someone properly.
KANE: To love on my terms. Those are the only terms anybody knows... his own.
Eventually, Charles Kane admits to his friend Leland that he wants love on his own terms and that's that. In his mind, a person can only love on their own terms because he can't imagine it being any other way. The idea that two people can be totally vulnerable with each other and share their lives is completely off his radar.
LELAND: No. I wish you'd go home to Emily. She'll be pretty upset by all this—she still loves you—
Leland thinks that even with everything that's happened with Kane's public affair, his wife Emily still loves him and he should go home to her. But that means Kane will have to humble himself and be vulnerable, and that's not something he plans on doing anytime soon. So he just lets his marriage dissolve.
KANE: Too late for what? Too late for you and this—this public thief to take the love of the people of this state away from me? Well, you won't do it, I tell you. You won't do it!
When Gettys blackmails Kane to drop out of the race for governor, Kane stands firm and refuses to back down. He destroys his marriage and his family in the process, but he doesn't care. In his mind, he's entitled to the love of all the people in the world and he won't let anyone take that away from him.
KANE SENIOR: You're going to be rich. Your Ma figures—that is—she and I have decided that this isn't the place for you to grow up in.
When Charles Kane is just a young boy, his mother sends him away from home so he can be properly educated and kept away from his sometimes-abusive father. Now that they have money, Mrs. Kane wants to make sure that Charles doesn't grow up with his rude and dirty father as a role model. She wants him to act like a proper rich person, which actually ends up causing most of his problems later on.
LELAND: You talk about giving them their rights as though you could make a present of liberty. Remember the working man? You used to defend him quite a good deal.
From the very beginning, Leland has been critical of Kane because he knows the guy's ego might get in the way of his crusade to help the working men of America. Over time, Kane's ego gets bigger and his actually concern for poor people shrinks. And as much as Leland hates to say, "I told you so," he can't help himself in this scene.
LELAND: Well, he's turning into something called organized labor and you don't like that at all. And listen, when your precious underprivileged really get together—that's going to add up to something bigger than—than your privilege.
Leland knows that Charles Kane doesn't like the organized labor movement in America because it will allow working people to take control of their own rights instead of waiting for Kane to give these rights as a gift to them. Kane wants to be loved as a savior, but the working people are going to cut him out entirely.
SPEECH MAKER: […] till the words "Charles Foster Kane" are a menace to every workingman in this land. He is today what he has always been and always will be: a fascist.
The rich folks of America like to call Kane a communist while the working people call him a fascist. And in a way, they're both right. Kane's attacks on private property make him look like a communist to some. But the working class also recognizes his insane thirst for power, which is pretty dang fascistic.
KANE: I am the publisher of The Inquirer. As such, it is my duty—I'll let you in on a little secret, it is also my pleasure—to see to it that decent, hard-working people of this city are not robbed blind by a group of money-mad pirates because, God help them, they have no one to look after their interests!
Despite what people say about him, a young Charles Kane is determined to use his wealth and privilege to fight for the rights of poor people who can't fight for themselves. As a newspaper publisher, Kane also thinks it's his duty and pleasure to use his influence to turn Americans against the rich and corrupt.
KANE: If I don't defend the interests of the underprivileged, somebody else will—maybe somebody without any money or any property. And that would be too bad.
It's not clear if Kane is being tongue-in-cheek here. On the one hand, he might be warning the rich Thatcher that one day, workers will rise up to win their rights by force. But on the other hand, Kane might actually resent the idea that anyone other than him might become the savior of the workers.
KANE: I've come here to tell you that, unless some action is taken promptly—and you are the only one who can take it—the oil that is the property of the people of this country will be turned over for a song to a gang of high-pressure crooks!
Kane is determined to make sure that the people of America all get to benefit from the wealth created by the country, especially if that wealth comes right out of the ground in the form of oil. But without someone speaking up for the working class, Kane is convinced that the rich will just take everything for themselves.
KANE: The personal note is all there is to it. It's all there ever is to it. It's all there ever is to anything! Stupidity in our government, complacency and self-satisfaction and unwillingness to believe that anything done by a certain class of people can be wrong— you can't fight those things impersonally.
People might tell Kane that he needs to deliver the news objectively, but he insists that being subjective is the whole point of a newspaper. He can't stand idly by while rich and corrupt people take over his country and report the news objectively. He needs to tell the world these people are crooked and that they should all be thrown out of office.
THATCHER: They're all part of your general attack—your senseless attack—on everything and everybody who's got more than ten cents in his pocket.
Thatcher is convinced that Kane is engaging in class warfare when he attacks rich people. But in Kane's mind, he's just looking out for the interests of ordinary people. And this makes sense, since most of the newspapers in the U.S. are owned by rich dudes who want to keep the working class down.
THATCHER: I think I should remind you, Charles, of a fact you seem to have forgotten. You are yourself one of the largest individual stockholders.
Thatcher thinks he'll get Kane to back off when he tells him that one of the companies Kane's attacking is one he owns stock in. But Kane doesn't care. As a rash young man, he's happy to throw away millions of dollars just to make a point.
NARRATOR: Kane, molder of mass opinion though he was, in all his life was never granted elective office by the voters of his country.
Charles Kane had huge power over people's opinions. But for several reasons, he was never able to use this power to win an election. Sure, he came close. But in the end, he never learned that power and money aren't enough to make a person likeable.
NARRATOR: Few, like one-time Congressman Hearst, have ever run for any office—most know better—conclude with other political observers that one man's press has power enough for himself.
There have been rich and powerful Americans who have run for political office. But on many occasions, history has shown that money alone isn't enough to win an election. You actually have to be kind of likeable.
LELAND: I don't suppose anybody ever had so many opinions. That was because he had the power to express them, and Charlie lived on power and the excitement of using it. But he didn't believe in anything except Charlie Kane.
Looking back on his friendship with Charles, Leland thinks about how Charles had all kinds of opinions because he had the power to make people listen. After all, you can have an opinion on just about anything when you own a dozen or so newspapers. Other people might have good opinions too, but no one will ever hear them because these people don't have the power Kane does.
LELAND: You want love on your own terms, don't you, Charlie? Love according to your own rules.
One of Kane's biggest flaws is that he needs everything on his own terms. He's been rich his whole life and he's used to servants doing what he wants. So he assumes that love is just like anything else in his life—something that can be had completely on his own terms.
KANE: To love on my terms. Those are the only terms anybody knows... his own.
In Kane's mind, it's impossible to do anything on anyone's terms other than his own. He assumes that every other person in the world feels the same way, but he's probably wrong on this. Or to put it another way, there are probably different degrees to which people need things on their own terms. People like Kane are on one end, and people who end up in happy relationships are on the other.
SUSAN: That's what it's been from the first moment I met you. No matter how much it cost you—your time, your money—that's what you've done with everybody you've ever known. Tried to bribe them!
According to Susan, Charles has no clue how to deal with people. He wants everyone to love him, but he thinks of love as something he can get if he just uses his power. He doesn't realize that love isn't something you win after you've auditioned for people's attention. You can't earn it with great accomplishments. You need to be vulnerable and give some love yourself. That's the part that Kane never really understands.
EMILY: People will think—
KANE: What I tell them to think.
Kane is pretty clear on what he thinks of the general public, especially the part of the public that reads his newspapers. In his own words, people will think whatever he tells them to. In his mind, the common people are too dumb and poor to stand up for themselves, so they need a hero like him to save them. Unfortunately, there's not much point to being a hero if you don't respect the people you're trying to help.
NARRATOR: For forty years appeared in Kane newsprint no public issue on which Kane papers took no stand. No public man whom Kane himself did not support or denounce—often support, then denounce.
Media moguls have always had a lot of power in America. But back in the days of Citizen Kane, men who owned lots of newspapers had the power to sway entire elections and mold public opinion on almost any issue. And that's exactly why Kane has no trouble taking clear positions in all of his newspapers. He doesn't even pretend to report the news objectively.
NARRATOR: For wife two, one-time opera singing Susan Alexander, Kane built Chicago's Municipal Opera House. Cost: three million dollars.
Kane likes getting things his own way, and whenever reality doesn't agree with him, he tries to use his money to smash a hole through reality itself. For example, look at his attempts to make his second wife Susan into a famous singer. Everyone knows she'll never have the talent to do it, but Kane plunks down three million dollars just to build her an opera house to perform in. Now that's what you call trying to make a fantasy a reality.
THATCHER: It is my considered belief that Mr. Charles Foster Kane, in every essence of his social beliefs and by the dangerous manner in which he has persistently attacked the American traditions of private property, initiative and opportunity for advancement, is in fact nothing more or less than a Communist.
It's true that Charles Kane has a lot of money and power. But do you know who else does, too? All of the rich people in America that Kane attacks with his newspapers. Even his former legal guardian, Mr. Thatcher, calls Kane a Communist in a public meeting. This just goes to show that when you attack the rich, you have to be ready for a war.
In the same position appears the tiny figure of Charles Foster Kane, aged five (almost like an animated cartoon). He is in the act of throwing a snowball.
As a little boy, Charles Kane hardly had a care in the world. He was happy to just play in the snow outside his mother's boarding house. But that all changed the day Mr. Thatcher showed up and took him away from his parents.
MRS. KANE: Be careful, Charles!
Mrs. Kane cares deeply about her son and it's clear that his departure hurts her badly. But in the end, she thinks she's doing the right thing by sending him away to be educated in New England. She wants him to be a great man and doesn't think that will happen if he spends too much time around his no-good father.
KANE SR.: Well, I don't hold with signing my boy away to any bank as guardian just because—
Mr. Kane isn't happy about sending his son away from home. In his opinion, he's the boy's father and he should have final say about what happens to him. But since all of the family money belongs to his wife, he doesn't really get to say anything about Charles' leaving home.
KANE SR.: Don't say I didn't warn you.
Charles Kane's dad might not be the best guy in the world, but he's kind of right when he warns against sending Charles away. Of course, he wants to keep Charles around for all the wrong reasons (because Mr. Kane is probably abusive and entitled). But there's some truth to his claim that a boy should be raised by his parents and not some bank.
At the end of his life, Charles says only the word "Rosebud." No one knows what it means, and we only find out at the end of the film that this is the name of his childhood sled. In this sense, Kane seems to be nostalgic for his lost childhood, a time of innocence that existed before he fell into the world of money and power.
The camera pans over hundreds of crates until it fixates on a child's sled. Someone grabs the sled and throws it into an incinerator. As the camera closes in, we see the word "Rosebud" written across the sled.
It's only at the very end of the movie that we find out what "Rosebud" means. A tight close-up shows that it's the name of Kane's childhood sled, the same sled he used as a literal shield when Mr. Thatcher tried to take him away. The move is symbolic because it shows how Rosebud represents that innocence and familial love that Kane doesn't want to lose.
KANE: See, Mom? I took the pipe out of his mouth. If it keeps on snowin', maybe I'll make some teeth and—
As a boy, all Charles Kane cares about is impressing his mother by talking about the snowman he just made. But his life is about to get a lot more complicated, because Mr. Thatcher from the bank has come to take him away.
MRS. KANE: Mr. Thatcher is going to take you on a trip with him tonight, Charles. You'll be leaving on Number Ten.
It's heartbreaking to see Mrs. Kane tell her son that he has to leave home forever. It's clear that the innocent young Charles doesn't really understand what's happening, so his mother tries to play on this innocence by telling him he'll get to ride on a train.
THATCHER: He certainly is. I wish I were a little boy and going to make a trip like that for the first time.
Even Thatcher tries to get in on the action when convincing little Charlie Kane that everything will be okay if he just leaves his family. But Thatcher can kid himself all he wants. It doesn't change the fact that leaving his family is really going to mess Charles up.
KANE SR.: You're going to live with Mr. Thatcher from now on, Charlie! You're going to be rich. Your Ma figures—that is—she and I have decided that this isn't the place for you to grow up in.
Mr. Kane wants his son to live at home. But he gives in when he realizes that he can't prevent his wife and Mr. Thatcher from sending Charles off to be educated in New England. Some part of him knows that this move will destroy Charles' innocence. But Mr. Kane is such a lousy dad that he doesn't have the cred to back up his beliefs.
KANE: You mustn't go, Susan. Everything'll be exactly the way you want it. Not the way I think you want it—by your way. Please, Susan—Susan!
Near the end of the movie, Susan decides that she's going to leave Charles. He tries to make her stay by promising to change. But Susan sees through his ruse and knows that he's just as proud as he's always been. He says he can change, but the fact remains that there's no evidence to show he can.
SUSAN: No matter how much it cost you—your time, your money—that's what you've done with everybody you've ever known. Tried to bribe them!
Charles has so much pride that he can't even understand the concept of loving people before they can love him. He just thinks that everyone in the world is an object whose love he can win if he just works hard enough at it.
LELAND: There are the people of the United States, and they are blaming you. Oh, I know it doesn't make any sense, but at least you can learn a lesson from it.
Leland tries to get Charles to see the error of his ways by giving him the straight dope on what many Americans think of him. He even thinks that Charles can learn a lesson from the things he's done wrong. But that's the problem with proud people: they have a way of not learning from their experiences.
KANE: What lesson? Not to expose fraud when I see it? Not to fight for the right of the people to own their own property?
Any time he's confronted with a blow to his pride, Charles is really good at deflecting the real issue and making the conversation all about other people, like the rich and the poor. It's little dodges like these that prevent him from ever having to confront anything that hurts his pride.
GETTYS: You're the greatest fool I've ever known, Kane. If it was anybody else, I'd say what's going to happen to you would be a lesson to you.
Boss Gettys knows that he has Kane beaten in the election for New York governor. But he also knows that Kane will never back down, so he goes ahead and exposes Kane's affair to the public, effectively ending his political career and destroying his family. Throughout it all, Kane never gives in to common sense because his pride is too strong.
GETTYS: Only you're going to need more than one lesson. And you're going to get more than one lesson.
Gettys can see how much pride there is in Charles, so he gives him some straight talk about what will happen to him. He knows that Charles is never going to learn any lessons because he's too proud to change. So he'll just go the rest of his life making the same mistakes over and over.
KANE: Don't you worry about me. I'm Charles Foster Kane. I'm no cheap, crooked politician, trying to save himself from the consequences of his crimes—
Charles hates to think that he and Gettys are similar in any way. In his mind, he's completely different from the crooked politicians who spent most of their time in office covering up their crimes. He thinks of himself as a sort of messiah, but he's no good to anyone if he can't get his ego under control.
EMILY: Why should anyone vote for him? He's made it quite clear to the people what he thinks of them. Children—to be told one thing one day, something else the next, as the whim seizes him.
It doesn't take Emily long to see what's at the core of Charles Kane: pure pride. He thinks of all the other people in the world as little children who need to be told what to think.
BERNSTEIN: Mr. Kane is finishing your piece the way you started it.
When Leland wakes up from a drunken stupor, he thinks that Charles has taken his review to rewrite it. But on the contrary, Charles is going to finish the review just the way Leland wanted it. The reason for this is that he wants to show Leland that he's an honest person. But here's the thing—he still can only do something like this if he's the one controlling the typewriter. It's not like he lets Leland control the situation, which means that he still can't get over his pride.
KANE: If you're interested in what people say, Signor Matiste, I may be able to enlighten you a bit. The newspapers, for instance. I'm an authority on what the papers will say, Signor Matiste, because I own eight of them between here and San Francisco...
As far as Charles Kane is concerned, people will think whatever he tells them to think. After all, he owns the newspapers that people will use to get their opinions. And it takes an awful lot of arrogance to tell someone that you control what the public thinks.