Compare and contrast “Meet John Doe” with “Citizen Kane”
Talented director Orson Welles was born in 1915 and encountered a number of hardships in the childhood. In 1919, his parents divorced, and five years later his mother suddenly fell ill and died. Happily, in Woodstock, Illinois, young Orson had a great educational environment at the Todd School for Boys, owing to Roger Hill, his teacher and guardian. Orson Welles was greatly interested in arts and humanities, and the teacher encouraged him to express his creativity, so the future director graduated from the high school at the age of fifteen. He was mature enough at that time and therefore decided to travel around Europe alone.
Then, his first ambitions associated with theatre and cinematography arose, and in Dublin, Ireland, he strode into the Gate Theatre, stating that he was a Broadway actor. His expression convinced Gate managers and he received minor roles until he met Thornton Wilder, who led him to the New York stage (Anderegg, 1999, p. 36). Later, in his twenties, he became famous in radio, particularly for reading various literary works for listeners. In cooperation with other actors and directors, Welles created the Mercury theatre, which reflected in performances a number of acute political problems like the spread of fascism.
Furthermore, with the advent and spread of cinematography, he moved to Hollywood, but his first projects were rejected by RKO because of their high cost and explicit anti-fascist political context. In one of the interviews, Welles recognized he did not wish to engage with filmmaking so deeply, and to the question for the reasons of his involvement responded: “Because movies take too long to make and cost too much money. Because the money takes too long to raise. I’ve spent most of my life, as it turns out, just trying to make movies. Think of all the years I could have salvaged if I’d been a little more polygamous” (Bogdanovich, 1998, p.3). Citizen Kane” was also a contradictory film and subsequently one of the first successful productions of Orson Welles, which brought him international success.
The opening scene shows the moon, partially covered by darkness and trees, show from the bottom. Further, one sees a fence with a “No trespass” warning and an old house, where the protagonist is dying. His lips pronounce “Rosebud” and a glass globe drops from his hand and smashes, which means, Charles Kane has recently passed away. The music is gloomy and reflects the overall mood of physical expiration from this world: the moon is darkening, “No trespass” means “No way farther”, so psychologically, the first scene determines the emotional frame of the film.
Light and dark in “Citizen Kane”, similarly to all monochrome films, serves the purpose of highlighting certain aspects or traits at the tensest moments. In the daily life scenes, the imagery is mostly light, which means, in the daylight and in others people’s presence, individuals are exposed to careful examination, whereas in more intimate conversation and more strained episodes, the author normally uses more contrasting colors of faces and background so that each expression, each gesture looks clearer. The use of up=angle show is an important tool of showing size, quantity and ”measuring” objects in comparison with something. For instance, in the final scene, the camera shows the room, where Kane’s belongings are stored, “from above”, so that it becomes clear that it has been really difficult to research his life and understand the meaning of the last word of the deceased, hidden by the mass of other things. Kane’s funeral is also shot through using this technique, in order to show the crowd of guests and highlight the number of people the celebrity interacted with, among whom, as it appears further, nobody was really close with him.
In the scene with Kane and his first wife at the table creative imagination allows showing the same couple at the same table in the different periods of Kane’s success. At first, Kane shows to his wife he is really ambitious and asserts his willingness to elucidate all political fabrications and manipulations, further, the scenes change one another quickly so that one understands certain time has passed – and Kane again shares his plans, victories and failures with his wife. In the final episode at the table, the two people seem estranged from one another – therefore, the series of the short conversations show that the first marriage can be barely called significant for Kane’s life. The music reflects the overall mood of the production as well as the speed of life around, so at certain moments its tempo slows down (e.g. when Kane is dying) or accelerates (e.g. in the episode depicting Charles Kane as a child).
Structurally, the film consists of several stages of the investigation, aimed at shedding light on the meaning of the main character’s last word and conducted by reporter Jerry Thompson. Thompson contacts the most influential people in the life of the deceased, but learns very little and is forced to leave obituary newsreel without changes. The newsreel is called “News on March” and in fact compares Kane to Kubla Khan, the main character of Coleridge’s famous poem and depicts the magnificence of the deceased and the authority he achieved; however, the director is dissatisfied with the newsreel and wishes to add some episodes from Kane’s personal life into it. Thompson interviews Mr.Thatcher, a banker, who became Kane’s guardian, as he child suddenly inherited a silver mine and was forced him to leave mother.
Emotionally, Mr.Thatcher sympathized with the deceased and sought to relief his loss and sorrow, but he didn’t actually involve into the boy’s life and try to bring him up, so Kane grew in the permissive environment. Mr.Bernstein, Kane’s subordinate at “Inquirer”, and Mr.Leland, Kane’s college friend, recount mostly the professional aspects of their interaction with the deceased. They perfectly remember the first days at the “Inquirer” and the transformation of the newspaper into the source of “yellow sensations”, which were at first artificial or even faked. This scene shows that Kane actually was the only person, who viewed the newspaper as his passion, whereas the other two men approached it as a part of daily routines, i.e. without creativity.
Bernstein, however, exhibits genuine admiration of Kane and it is clear that the man sought to learn from the deceased as they worked together. Mr.Leland seems dissatisfied with Kane’s behavior and recognizes that the deceased was not brutal, but acted quite cruelly. For this reason, their friendship was cooling as Kane obtained more success and became even more arrogant and brutal.
Leland also narrates about Kane’s marriage to Emily, depicted in the film as a part of his interior as he had breakfasts. He was not able to talk about anything except for work, whereas the woman naturally required attention and tried to gain it by showing her interest in Kane’s life. However, after her attempts failed she estranged emotionally from her spouse. It also appears that Kane’s first marriage actually ruined due to adultery with Susan, who became his second wife.
Thompson visits the woman to interview her and learns she has become an alcohol addict and now owns her own club. Thompson finds out that Susan’s relationship with Kane was destroyed by his domineering nature, in particular, by the compulsion to make career as an opera singer which he imposed on the woman. Susan was really willing to share his victories and assist him; therefore, she tried this profession, but had no success.
After Kane found Leland sleeping on the unfinished negative review of Susan’s performance, he fired his ex-friend. Kane also made attempts to buy her love and surprise her with his generosity, but she did not appreciate gifts like the cavernous Xanadu mansion. These facts show Kane as the person, married primarily to his work, so his own emotional involvement into the lives of his nearest and dearest as quite weak. Susan, as she did singing, remained his ambition and a part of his work, but once she quit, he quickly lost interest in her.
Thompson’s face remains guised throughout the film, probably because he is out of the focus of the story. He is simply a researcher, an investigator, so the events are shown through his eyes. But the viewer physically cannot see himself at the moment of observing, so all conversations are actually observations, set through the reporter’s subjective lens. The primary theme of the film is close-knit with Thompson’s subjective vision, given the theme consists in the difficulty of interpreting others’ lives. Individuals make judgments “from inside”, all their considerations derive from their inherent values and beliefs, so it is barely possible to take the other person’s position in evaluating this person’s life.
The second theme is the American Dream, or, more precisely, its reverse side: apart from financial and social success, Kane lost all of his friends and was not happy in his personal life, given his absolute devotion to work. The final theme refers to unreliable human memory, which might fail to keep important events, yet often fixes on secondary episodes. Given that most characters are quite old, their memory undergoes natural degeneration, e.g. Leland is not able to retrieve the name of Kane’s estate, Susan Alexander is affected by her alcoholism during the conversation and therefore provides inaccurate information.
As the film reveals, Kane was excessively committed to his job and was ready even to betray his own childhood beliefs and closest people for this purpose. He fails to notice people striving for helping him (like his first wife, Leland, Susan and Bernstein) ad instead develops high self-importance and egocentrism as a result of his glory. This leads him to dying in loneliness. This actually drives him to reiterate “Rosebud”, the “name” of the sled which he used to protect himself from Mr.Thatcher, who came to bring him to the world of wealth. “Rosebud” was therefore his last weapon, the last fortress, which sheltered him from the world of high politics and high ambitions into which he needed to involve. Given the necessity of “manufacturing sensations” for his newspaper, he became cynical, callous and tended to employ people as instruments in his market competition.
In general, the film indicates that solitude awaits everyone who seeks to actualize their “American Dream” ignoring the so-called “human factor” and forgetting about the living beings to love them, rely on them and are truly loyal to them. Similarly, “Meet John Doe” shows that the ladder to success consists of the necessities to betray one’s own values, to lie, fabricate and manipulate.
Success, according to “Meet John Doe”, is close-knit with the developing unhealthy cynicism, ignoring humanity and playing with human feelings, what actually Charles Kane did. However, as opposed to “Citizen Kane”, in “Meet John Doe”, the two main characters manage to quit their unfair business and remain loyal to their moral values, given that their mutual love appears to be stronger than professional and career ambitions.
- Anderegg, M. (1999). Orson Welles, Shakespeare and Popular Culture. Columbia University Press.
- Bodganich, P. (1998). This Is Orson Welles. University of Chicago Press.
- Welles, O. (dir.) (1941). Citizen Kane (film).
- Capra, F. (dir.) (1941). Meet John Doe (film).