(reader) Significance of Narrative Form in Citizen Kane

Chapter 3 of Film Art: An Introduction expands on key elements of what makes up narrative form with examples from this week’s feature, Citizen Kane. These elements consist of the difference between plot and story, time, spatial organization, causality, and patterns and motifs.

This chapter distinguishes the difference between “story” and “plot.” The story is the chronological sequence of events that make up the narrative, while the plot is the actual arrangement of those events within the film. Filmmakers often manipulate the plot by using techniques like flashbacks or non-linear storytelling to engage the audience and create a unique viewing experience. An example of this would be in the movie Citizen Kane as it opens with the death of Charles Foster Kane, a wealthy newspaper magnate, and his mysterious final word, “Rosebud.” This enigmatic word becomes the central mystery of the film. Rather than presenting the story in a straightforward chronological order, the film unfolds through a series of flashbacks and interviews, with different characters providing their perspectives on Kane’s life. This non-linear narrative structure allows the audience to piece together the puzzle of who Charles Kane was and what “Rosebud” represents.

This chapter also explores how filmmakers manipulate time within a narrative. It discusses techniques such as the manipulation of time through editing, flashbacks, and ellipses to affect the pacing and emotional impact of a story. The film Citizen Kane begins with the death of the character, Charles Foster Kane, and then explores his life through flashbacks and different perspectives. The film then employs various temporal manipulations, including time lapses, cross-cutting between different periods in Kane’s life, and narrative ellipses. These techniques disrupt the linear flow of time and allow the audience to piece together Kane’s life. This non-linear structure breaks away from the conventional chronological order of storytelling.

Furthermore, the duration of scenes in Citizen Kane varies. Some scenes are quite lengthy, providing detailed insights into Kane’s life and relationships. Others are shorter, emphasizing specific moments or actions. The variation in scene duration contributes to the film’s pacing and helps maintain the audience’s engagement. Furthermore, the film employs parallel narratives, where multiple storylines run concurrently. For example, as reporters investigate the meaning of “Rosebud,” viewers follow the main narrative of Kane’s life. This duality in storytelling provides both depth and a sense of time juxtaposition. Memory and subjective experiences also play a significant role in the narrative structure of Citizen Kane. Flashbacks and recollections are used to depict Kane’s life from the perspectives of different characters, which adds layers to the storytelling and emphasizes the temporal complexity.

The concept of cause and effect is crucial in understanding narrative form in film. This chapter explores how filmmakers use cause and effect between events to establish a logical and coherent narrative structure. In the opening of the film Citizen Kane with the death of Charles Foster Kane and the enigmatic word “Rosebud.” This event sets up the narrative causality by posing a question: What is the significance of “Rosebud”? The film then delves into a series of flashbacks and interviews to explore the causality behind this mystery. A majority of the film is centered around a journalist’s investigation into Kane’s life to uncover the meaning of “Rosebud.” The causality here is the cause and effect relationship between the journalist’s inquiry and the various stories and memories he uncovers. Each revelation about Kane’s past is a result of this investigative causality. The motivations and actions of characters in Citizen Kane drive the narrative. For example, Kane’s desire for power and wealth causes him to buy and control newspapers. This action, in turn, has a causal effect on his relationships and public perception. 

Chapter 3 also addresses the use of recurring patterns, motifs, and symbols within a film’s narrative. These elements add depth and resonance to the storytelling and can help convey thematic messages. The most prominent motif in Citizen Kane is the word “Rosebud.” It serves as a recurring pattern throughout the film as the entire narrative is structured around the search for its meaning. This motif propels the story and adds depth to the character of Charles Foster Kane. Reflections and mirrors are used as motifs to highlight self-perception and duality. The film repeatedly features scenes in which characters are seen in mirrors or reflective surfaces, symbolizing the difference between their public and private selves. This motif highlights the theme of identity and how people see themselves versus how they are perceived by others. The motif of childhood is woven throughout the film, appearing in various scenes and flashbacks. This pattern explores Kane’s early years and the events that shaped his character. It also connects to the search for the meaning of “Rosebud,” which is ultimately revealed to be a symbol of Kane’s lost innocence and a key motif in the narrative.

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