For decades since its 1941 release, "Citizen Kane" has been hailed as one of the greatest cinematic achievements of the American film industry, and for a good reason. Orson Welles’s masterful direction, the creative use of innovative techniques like Deep Focus and many others, as well as outstanding performances from everyone involved, helped to elevate the already excellent film to a piece of modern art. When discussing individual scenes from the film, it seems as if most people have one particular moment which intrigues them in some way, and this is no different for me. My favorite scene is none other than the famous “Window Scene,” in which a young Charles Kane celebrates his childhood innocence by frolicking outside on a snowy day, blissfully unaware of the forces seemingly conspiring against his happiness. What elements make this scene so memorable, and why is it so important to the rest of the film? Allow me to explain.
Whenever I re-watch this scene, the first thing that strikes me is its use of the special effect known as, “Deep Focus.” This camera technique involves adjusting the focus so that objects in the background of the shot appear as bright as objects in the foreground. To me, this effect often creates a feeling of equal importance throughout the shot. Events taking place within the foreground, such as Kane’s parents discussing his education away from home with banker Walter Thatcher, move the plot along, but is no more significant or more of a focal point than Kane playing outside in the snow. This effect provides us with two perspectives and conflicting moods in the same shot. The effect thus gives us multiple layers of uncertainty and carefree attitudes and balances the seemingly cold and unflinching attitude held by Kane’s mother at the thought of sending her son away with Kane’s last moments of innocence and childhood.
Besides being filled with emotion and depth, this scene also works brilliantly in a practical sense. So often in modern films, it seems that exposition and plot details are thrust upon the audience quickly to leave time for more “interesting” events, without letting the plot flow naturally. This scene is entirely different. Context is given for the situation and for Kane’s education away from home. This is because gold has been found on the land owned by Charles’s mother, leaving the family unexpectedly wealthy. Information is dispensed at a steady and constant pace, and the audience is given time to connect the dots and speculate on what effect the events within this flashback have had on Kane’s life and how current events within the story have been affected. Character motivations are made clear, and by the end of the scene, we know how each character feels about the situation.
Kane’s mother is reluctant to send her son away, but more than willing to do so if it means he will have access to a better life and education, as well as be protected from his abusive father. Kane’s father is mainly concerned that he receives what he sees as his share of the profits from the gold, though he does express some concern for his son, stating that this decision is probably for the best. Young Charles is unaware of the situation and understands little, except the fact that his parents have arranged for him to be taken away from the only home he’s ever known. Everyone’s motivations and feelings are made clear straightforwardly and organically.
The final reason I adore this scene is because of its importance to the plot, as a sort of “keystone” which supports the entire story. The plot of "Citizen Kane" revolves around the life of recently deceased media mogul Charles Kane, and an investigation into his last word, “Rosebud.” Protagonist and reporter Jerry Thompson embarks on a quest to find the meaning of the iconic figure’s dying words, and gradually pieces together the complete story of Kane’s past through interviews with those close to the man. Though Thompson himself never discovers the meaning of the word through his investigations, the audience is shown that Rosebud is none other than the name of the manufacturer of Kane’s childhood sled. This is the last relic of his stolen youth and childhood, which is a cruel twist of fate, is thought to be junk by Kane’s house staff and burned in the furnace.
The scene is a catalyst for all future events in Kane’s life, and the root cause of all present situations occurring within the film. It completes the picture of mysterious Charles Kane, a man who stood at the top of the world, constantly seeking greater heights, all to fill the void left by his lost childhood, home, and family. It is for all these reasons that I truly believe this scene is one of the most groundbreaking and meaningful in all of cinema, and only serves to amplify my appreciation for this masterful film even further.