Citizen Kane is a biopic that loosely details the life of William Randolph Hearst. The film is comprised of a series of flashbacks, as a reporter searches to find the meaning behind Kane’s last word, “rosebud”. The flashbacks begins with Kane being sent away by his family to live with a banker after the family comes into a good sum of money. Kane grows and comes to control a chain of newspapers, including The Inquirer, which give him a huge influence on the public, and also unsuccessfully campaigns for governor. He marries Emily Norton, with whom his marriage eventually falls apart. He begins an affair with Susan Alexander, and eventually marries her. Kane forces her to learn to sing, but after her suicide attempt, he changes his mind. Susan eventually leaves Kane, and Kane has a breakdown. In the final scene, it is clear that “rosebud” was the sled from Kane’s childhood, a representation of the loss of his innocence and the only time he was happy.
Welles may have intended Citizen Kane as a critique of the “American Dream”, implying that money doesn’t buy happiness. The film begins with Kane’s death, and the utterance of his last word, “Rosebud”. It is later revealed that Rosebud was the sled from his childhood. It is commonly believed that last words have a great deal of significance, and being that his last word reflected his childhood, it is implied that he feels that he lost those times of innocence. Even though he was materialistically successful in life, his childhood was the most significant and happiest part of his life. The viewer sees the degradation of two of Kane’s marriages due to boredom and overwhelming pressure, respectively. Kane’s marriage to Susan best exemplifies his misunderstanding of happiness – she tells him that he buys her all kinds things, but never does anything for her, or with her in mind. She is insinuating that his money doesn’t contribute to the success (or lack thereof) of their marriage. Because Kane was raised by a banker, whose philosophy of life entailed material possession as a means to happiness, he experiences difficulties with human connection and self-actualization.