Consistently on top of the list of best American films, Citizen Kane is hailed as an exposition of the hollowness of the American dreamâ€”financial affluence and material luxury. Perhaps Orson Welles’ film receives its power from another earlier, exposition – human beings cannot create the Paradise they have lost.
Charles Foster Kane, like his Biblical namesake Cain, is the firstborn son of his family raised outside Eden. For young Charles, Eden is the boy’s home in the rural West; he is described as “deliriously happy” there with his parents. Even his play underscores his hopes – Charlie plays a game of war â€“ Civil War â€“ exhorting his imaginary troops to keep â€œthe Union, forever.â€ In a child’s mind, the most precious union is that among mother, father and child.
But even as Charlie plays, his mother Mary – proprietor of a Western boarding house, like Cain’s mother Eve, succumbs to the temptation offered – a gold mine fortune bequeathed by a miner she had befriended – by the banker, Thatcher, “from the East.” Charlie’s familial union is rent.
Mary’s decision, like Eveâ€™s, and their passive husbandsâ€™ acquiescence, results in exile for the subsequent generations of their family. Like his biblical namesake Cain, Charles Foster Kane is forced to grow up “east of Eden.”
Angel guards prevented Adam and Eve’s return to Eden; young Kane’s guardian likewise prevents his return home. Like Cain, young Kane will be raised outside of God’s perfect love and will. Kane Senior can only utter, “Well, let’s hope it’s all for the best.”
When presented with “the best”, young Charles instinctively knows it is wrong. Without a word, the boy hits Thatcher in the stomach with his sled.
The sled, “Rosebud”, would be the last item Kane touches before being taken from his paradisiacal home. Life in the old world was “nipped in the bud” for the young boy; it would remain in his memory as the symbol of unconditional love and joy denied.
Throughout his life, Charles Foster Kane seeks to fill the void created when he was exiled from his home. He tries to buy or earn love from his wife, friends, community, and country through extravagant philanthropy. (The name Cain/KaneÂ comes from the root qanah, “to possess”). But the hole not only remains, it cries out with his last dying word, “Rosebud”, the sled he has kept all his life, his only bit of the paradise he lost.
Charles Foster Kane could not rescue himself. And neither can we. Our Savior has made possible a return to our lost Eden. The Kingdom of God, unconditional love and joy, is at hand. All we need do is accept it.
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