A Citizen and a Gentleman
December 8, 2022 | Jim Angehr
Time for true confessions here at Letters To You, dear reader: until this week, I had never seen Citizen Kane.
The horror! The horror!
Likewise, I can neither confirm nor deny that periodically over the years, I’ve participated in conversations about Kane at assorted cocktail parties and shindigs in such a way that I may have obfuscated the reality that I had not, in fact, ever watched the movie. An occasional comment like, “Of course there’s the performances in Citizen Kane, but what about the cinematography?,” may have constituted for this writer an amusing personal parlor game.
Call it an act of omission, not commission. Orson Welles’ 1941 film was always on my list of “one of these days I need to see that” flicks, but I couldn’t ever find the time.
But then came Monday evening. My oldest son, Josiah, is back from his first term at college and in the midst of a horse latitudes-like period of his fall schedule when he’s already returned from school but his buddies are still plugging away at various universities.
Enter Movie Night with Dad. Josiah enjoys film and TV, and as such it’s been on our radar to catch Kane. We finally did.
Come to Letters to You for the banter, stay for the hot takes. Citizen Kane is. . . really good!
Actually, it was better than that. Citizen Kane is spectacular. I can’t think of many other types of instances in which the experience so fully lives up to the hype. (More often, you’re in Mona-Lisa-at-the-Louvre territory, where you’re left wondering, “That’s a cool postage stamp, but are we at the gift shop already? Where’s the real Mona Lisa?”) Not every day do you begin viewing a film billed as The Greatest Film of All Time and end it with, “That’s about right.”
Luckily, I’m relieved to report that my maybe he did, maybe he didn’t cocktail comments about Citizen Kane proved to be correct! On just about every metric or success axis you can throw at this movie, it knocks it out of the part.
Two specific Kane-derived thoughts for you.
For starters, I can appreciate that one of the enduring fascinations about Citizen Kane is that it’s so difficult to pin down what it’s about. Or better stated, Kane is about many different things all at once and fully addresses them all. Is it a movie about ambition, obsession, avarice? Yes. Power, money, and media? Uh-huh. Antifascism, public corruption, and scandal? Same sign. Ditto for identity, memory, the passage of time, regret, loneliness, friendship, love, creativity, and beauty. And so on.
No wonder generation after generation returns to this movie as a touchstone.
Which is correspondingly one of the reasons as to why I continue to find the Christian faith deeply compelling. What is Christianity about? It’s about everything. It’s about life, joy, and peace. It’s about justice, healing, and forgiveness. It’s about hope, courage, and perseverance. It’s about mind, body, and spirit. Individuals, families, people groups. The earth, the moon, the cosmos. Similarly, the good news of Jesus comprehends, accounts for, and offers hope beyond all of the things in our lives and in the world that are anti-life: death, despair, depression, anxiety, addiction, deceit, anger, factionalism, violence, war, displacement, decay.
Friends, it’s all there in the Christian gospel. Over the years and in various stages of my life, it’s one aspect or another of Christianity that I find either most encouraging and/or challenging during that period. Personally right now, with the death of my mother having occurred less of a month ago, I’ve been parking on the “eternal life” square of the Jesus board. How wonderful that sentiments like, “She’s in a better place now,” or, “We’ll see her again,” are not vacuous sentimentality but instead concrete reality.
What is Christianity about? You’ll never get to the bottom of it, and you need all of it.
(One more thought about Kane coming at you next week. Stay tuned, fine citizens.)