To summarize the story of Citizen Kane, one could use the line said by the reporter who collected the various vignettes of it. “I don’t think any word can explain a man’s life,” Thompson said, comparing Kane to a jigsaw puzzle. The phrase sounds almost accusatory as if reprimanding the viewer for trying to make sense of an entire person with just a couple of stories. The comparison is also rather apt, as the movie is structured in such a way to present Kane to the audience from various points of view and let them assemble the story piece by piece.
The actual sequence of events in Citizen Kane is rather simple: a journalist wants to write a story about who Kane was, and he travels around the United States to ask that question of the people that survived him. The story is presented as a tale told by each of these people, and each had met their own Charles Kane. Throughout the movie, these different Kanes begin to intersect, and the viewer is presented with a slight glimpse of who Charles Kane was. That glimpse does not tell the entire picture, and there is an argument to be made that it is not supposed to. In the end, Charles Kane is the only person who ever knew Charles Kane, and even that much is uncertain. By the end, there are a lot of unanswered questions about what he wanted and why he did what he did. That ambiguity follows very elegantly from the line about how a word cannot explain life. If a word or two weeks’ worth of investigation cannot, then a two-hour-long movie certainly is not enough either.
Citizen Kane is a story that has a twofold meaning, and both parts are conveyed well. On the one hand, there is the story of Kane himself, starved for love yet reluctant to give it. On the other hand, the movie’s deeper point is based on making the audience curious about who a stranger is and barely satiating that curiosity by the end. Getting to know a person takes time and effort, and, most importantly, it takes effort from the other side. The movie shows us an assortment of pieces that various people possess, but it is clear that Kane took most of them to his grave, having never shown them to anyone.