Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane: The Greatest Movie Ever Made

Well, maybe not.

Is it a good movie? Yes. Most definitely, but is it the single greatest achievement in the history of film? How does one even quantify that? Film, like all art, is an aesthetic medium, and aesthetics are the stuff of the subjective. Naming a film the (objective) “greatest film ever” strikes me as false. Of course, the subjective invites discussion in a way the objective does not, and we might as well have a “greatest film ever,” so why not Citizen Kane?

Honestly, I don’t think it matters one way or the other. At the very least, Citizen Kane is a very good movie.

The film chronicles the rise and fall of fictional newspaper czar Charles Foster Kane. It begins with his death, alone and inestimably wealthy as he utters his last word, the enigmatic, “Rosebud.” The film then follows a reporter trying to get to solve the mystery of that final word and includes Kane’s life story as told by those who were closest to him.

At its core, this story is an exploration of what drives a man to do all he does. Is it want of money? Want of romance? Want of friends? Want of public esteem? Want of self-knowledge? Citizen Kane definitely has an opinion on the matter, though I will not spoil the film’s secret by divulging it here.

One might argue that this is the question at the heart of every narrative, film or not. Famous screenplay coach Robert McKee says that a story is simply a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. Citizen Kane asks the question of what is at the heart of every character in every story’s desire. Dressed in the garb of a wealthy newspaper man, Kane’s story is every story.

The Bible asks and answers the same question essentially. The Christian faith teaches that at our heart we want to be reconciled with God, that that is the drive that drives creation. Citizen Kane‘s answer differs a bit, but I think it is metaphorically pointed in the right direction.

Citizen Kane is the “greatest film of all time” because of what it did for cinema. Never before has such stylized camera work and technique been used in such a commercially approachable film. Citizen Kane changed the way movies are made.

Citizen Kane is a great film because it is excellently directed and acted, flawlessly executed, and because it asks the essential question of humankind – Why are we broken, and how do we get fixed?