Come to Life It is hard to nail down what exactly makes the movies that have been claimed as all-time classics stay in audience’s good graces for so long. No one can tell the precise recipe for a good move – there is no book that tells how to.
Therefore, whenever a movie is released, the passion that went into the movie-making process collides with the critical vision of the audience. A decent element of the “old gold” collection of classic films, Citizen Cane is a graphical example of how a well-written character with a unique arch and a decently developed intrigue can make a cinematic masterpiece out of a one poor rich man’s story.
A symbol of childhood, innocence and the best kept secret of all time, Rosebud adds that bittersweet melancholic tone to the Citizen Cane and makes it appeal not only to the great of the world, but to any adults who can still remember the time when they were young and careless.
Like many other well-written symbols in a movie, Rosebud incorporates several ideas at once, embracing a whole spectrum of emotions and a bunch of memories. Before proceeding with the analysis of the Rosebud significance, one must mention that throughout the entire movie, weirdly enough, it was mistaken for a number of things and people.
Some considered that Rosebud was Kane’s memory of his failure: “A racehorse he bet on once, probably, that didn’t come in – Rosebud!” The reporter, Jerry Thompson, believed that Rosebud was actually a friend of Kane.
Thrilling the viewers into paying attention, the movie helps the audience relate to the leading character. Hence the wistful mood comes, making the audience tune into the story of Citizen Kane. It can be suggested that in this meaning, Rosebud represents a symbol of nostalgia.
As it finally turns out, the sled, which the Rosebud eventually turned out to be, appears to be the symbol of Kane’s childhood and everything that being a child involved, that is, having fun and being a kid without a care in the world. Rosebud is the symbol of all the fun that Orson Welles’ character had as a child, and the regret for not having given credit to those days before.
Rosebud is the symbol of the times when there was no need to care for anything, or fight or anything; it was the time of innocence for Foster Kane. One might argue that the life that Kane led as an adult was much more complex and, therefore, more engaging than the childhood adventures.
The movie, however, makes it very clear with the help of Rosebud as a symbol of childhood that it takes ridiculously little to feel on top of the world. In fact, at certain point, Welles drops a very clear hint at the act that Rosebud is supposed to signify childlike innocence and contrast with the vulgarity that surrounded Kane in his business career and love affairs:
MISS ANDERSON: You have enjoyed a very rare privilege, young man. Did you find what you were looking for?
THOMPSON: No. Tell me something, Miss Anderson. You’re not a Rosebud, are you?’
MISS ANDERSON: ‘What?’
THOMPSON: ‘I didn’t think you were’” (Citizen Kane).
Contrasting everything that Miss Anderson represents, starting with her no-nonsense attitude to the prim and proper manners, to Rosebud, Welles makes it clear that Rosebud is a reminiscence of the days when playing games was enough to feel happy.
It is quite peculiar that Kane’s attitude towards children gets a mentioning several times in the movie; for example, talking about her children, Emily says that Kane “sees to it that they get cheap ice and only pay a nickel in the street cars” (Citizen Kane). The message that Rosebud conveys might also imply that only in their childhood, people can feel genuinely happy.
Speaking of the other things that Rosebud could signify, one can argue that Rosebud is the symbol of good times and the idealization of the “old days”. Nostalgia is an integral part of people’s life, which Citizen Kane shows in the most obvious way; even the business giant and a cool-blooded, always-reasonable Kane finally confesses that he misses the time when he was a child, though in a rather vague way.
On the one hand, in the given context, Rosebud can be considered the symbol of weakness: “Tough guy, huh? Dies calling for Rosebud!” (Citizen Kane). On the other hand, this is the kind of weakness that makes the audience more sympathetic towards Foster Kane. Everyone has ever had a time in his/her life when a choice between staying innocent and growing up was made, and that choice came at a price.
Taking the above-mentioned idea to a different level, one might also consider Rosebud as the sacrifice that Kane made to grow up. However, in the light of the fact that Kane never mentioned Rosebud whenever the movie cut to his life in a flashback, it should be concluded that he never realized what kind of price he had paid for becoming what he finally became.
Thus, it can be considered that Rosebud was a kind of a fee for entering the world of adults. Though, as it has been mentioned, Kane never says a word about Rosebud and did not even seem to remember it, the audience still sees the pain that he has to go through when trying to figure out why he heels so empty: “Mrs. Kane liked poetry” (Citizen Kane).
Rosebud seems to be the kind of wistful memory of something that Kane would have never felt again – the joy of being just a kid, and being loved by his mother merely for being her son; the joy of knowing that he belonged somewhere and that he was always welcome there.
A symbol of time when the lead character could not care less about the problems that most adults face, Rosebud represents the memories about the childhood that every adult has hidden somewhere deep within, as well as the nostalgia for the time when one could be free from the worries of the adults and the existential angst of young adults.
One of the most well-kept secrets in the history of cinema, Rosebud is a perfect symbol of the sacrifice that people make when they leave the realm of childhood and enter the world of the grown-ups. What used to seem a wonderland full of fun and games turns out to be a piece of junk and a miserable wreck, and that is the cost for growing up.
Citizen Kane. Dir. Orson Welles. Perf. Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton and Dorothy Comingore. RKO Radio Pictures, 1941. Film.