Charles Foster Kane spends his whole life pursuing his wont, but he is taken away from his mom and dad, his political career is defeated by an opponent who is more sly, and his collecting of artefacts becomes so meaningless that by retirement he has ceased even opening their boxes.
His first marriage is depicted as failing in a numbing montage of ever more uncomfortable disagreements over breakfast.
His determination to make his second marriage work, by giving her everything he possibly can, highlights the ultimate emptiness of material possessions and adulation. These things can help with happiness, but only to a point, as Charles and Susan learn when they discover they have nothing else left to wish for. Eventually Susan develops an OCD for doing jigsaw puzzles, creating a false need that she can spend her enormous amount of spare time filling.
Even reporter Jerry Thompson, who after Charles' death spends the entire film searching for the meaning of the tycoon's enigmatic final word 'rosebud', never succeeds, although he has a significant advantage over Charles in how to deal with this dissatisfaction.
He simply accepts that the conundrum doesn't fit his expectation of having a solution that he can identify, and so, rather brilliantly, he just gets on with something else instead.
Jerry: "Charles Foster Kane was a man who got everything he wanted, and then lost it. Maybe Rosebud was something he couldn't get or lost. No, I don't think it explains anything. I don't think any word explains a man's life. No - I guess Rosebud is just a piece in a jigsaw puzzle - a missing piece. We'd better get along. We'll miss the train."
Ahh, the power of finding value in whatever is here rather than there...
Although the non-chronological narrative is confusing, and the acting quite variable, Citizen Kane bears viewing more than once. The camerawork, style and script are all simply first class, and credit the viewer with just the sort of intelligence that we usually have to leave behind when watching a movie.
Mr. Bernstein: "Mr. Thompson. A fellow will remember things you wouldn't think he'd remember. You take me. One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on a ferry and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it, there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on, and she was carrying a white parasol, and I only saw her for one second and she didn't see me at all - but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl."
That's not a plot-point, it's just the sort of brainy thing these characters are capable of.
Also the make-up here is excellent, with Orson Welles in the title role convincingly appearing to progress through decades. Joseph Cotton as three incarnations of best friend Jedediah Leland looks so different each time that it's a challenge to make the connection that he's the same guy.
Conversely, George Coulouris aims flatly for laughs as Kane's long-suffering guardian Walter Parks Thatcher, and I counted at least three occasions when he dared to mug to camera and break the fourth wall!
Although we the audience do indeed discover what Charles' final word refers to (fuzzily - that thing it's written on could be anything), it remains up to the individual to choose how to apply it to his life, or indeed to our own. It beggars that haunting question of mortality, what understanding of ourselves might each one of us discover on our deathbed, in failure?
How might a similar film of one's own life substitute the ambitions, defeats and pointlessness?
What will I leave behind?
(available in an unopened box here)