Citizen Kane: a master class in megalomania

Citizen Kane is Orson Welles’ deep nnnnndive into the psychology of megalomania. It is impressive enough on unrelated dimensions to indicate Welles may have been a rare intersection of polymath and genius. The psychological accuracy is stunning, and the truths it represents are communicated in a symbolic language that showcases both wild creativity and meticulous attention to detail. (This analysis will not even mention the creativity of the film techniques, which is typically what the film geeks write about and not a topic I know anything about.) Combine this with the fact that Welles was an outsider to Hollywood who created his own production company and introduced a bunch of unknown actors, and the achievement is staggering. Melonheads once again confirmed for True Autistes; I can’t doff my fedora any harder than I’m doing right now.


(It makes sense that a bigeye melonhead would be intimately familiar with the psychology of megalomaniacal demagogues, but nevermind. Classic movie analysis is vry srs ppl time, not weird fringe neanderthal astrology cold reading time.)

I’ll analyze the movie as if it were illustrating the major points of Sam Vaknin’s essay “The Soul of a Narcissist”, even though the essay was written much later. The correspondences between the two are too perfect not to exploit.

The thesis of Citizen Kane is that the lives of extraordinarily talented, larger-than-life narcissists are tragic. Driven to fame and fortune by a cruel attachment disorder and fueled by a vicious cycle of entitlement and rejection, they can obtain everything they want in life except what they truly need: meaningful relationships with other human beings.

The popular misconception is that narcissists love themselves. In reality, they direct their love to other people’s impressions of them. He who loves only impressions is incapable of loving people, himself included.

But the narcissist does possess the in-bred desire to love and to be loved. If he cannot love himself – he must love his reflection. But to love his reflection – it must be loveable. Thus, driven by the insatiable urge to love (which we all possess), the narcissist is preoccupied with projecting a loveable image, albeit compatible with his self-image (the way he “sees” himself).

-Sam Vaknin
The Soul of a Narcissist

This thesis is represented in a single word that tops Ayn Rand’s phrase (“Who is John Galt?”) as the epitome of mythical construction: Rosebud. Kane’s fixation on the simple life of his impoverished early childhood, his personal Garden of Eden, demonstrates a longing to throw away all the wealth, power, and prestige he’s inherited, earned, and accumulated in his personal Xanadu to return to childhood and obtain the unconditional love of his mother. This simple love is represented in microcosm by the single gift his mother could afford to give him as a boy: an unremarkable sled.

By a cruel twist of fate, and by no fault of his own or anyone’s in particular, Kane’s life begins with the cold rejection of his mother (who, representing the tragic irony of fate, was trying to protect him from the predations of his father). He reacts to this by angrily attacking the inescapable agent of his downfall, Mr. Thatcher, with Rosebud. This anti-authoritarian streak is generalized throughout the rest of the movie as Kane attacks and tears down all the social structures he perceives as separating him from the unconditional love of the victims for whom he’s compelled to act as a messiah figure: financial elites, political corruption, and cultural gatekeepers alike.

KANE (quietly): Whatever I do – I do – because I love you.

SUSAN: Love! You don’t love anybody! Me or anybody else! You want to be loved – that’s all you want! I’m Charles Foster Kane. Whatever you want – just name it and it’s yours! Only love me!

This produces the narcissistic “false self” which Welles symbolizes through Kane’s newspaper empire, The Enquirer, which exists to project Kane’s constructed self-image to the world.

KANE: The trouble is, Mr. Thatcher, you don’t realize you’re talking to two people. As Charles Foster Kane, who has eighty-two thousand, six hundred and thirty-one shares of Metropolitan Transfer – you see, I do have a rough idea of my holdings – I sympathize with you. Charles Foster Kane is a dangerous scoundrel, his paper should be run out of town and a committee should be formed to boycott him. You may, if you can form such a committee, put me down for a contribution of one thousand dollars. [Ed: Lol, I wish I could write paragraphs that clever. Incredible.]

On the other hand – (his manner becomes serious) – I am the publisher of the Enquirer. As such, it is my duty – I’ll let you in on a little secret, it is also my pleasure – to see to it that decent, hard-working people of this city are not robbed blind by a group of money-mad pirates because, God help them, they have no one to look after their interests!

I’ll let you in on another little secret, Mr. Thatcher. I think I’m the man to do it. You see, I have money and property. If I don’t defend the interests of the underprivileged, somebody else will – maybe somebody without any money or any property and that would be too bad.

Because his charity is a false front for his purity spiral into a fetishized self-image, each charity project becomes an exercise in pathological altruism, resulting in personal aggrandizement at the cost of hurting those Kane loves and driving them away.

LELAND: You talk about the people of the United States as though they belonged to you. When you find out they don’t think they are, you’ll lose interest. You talk about giving them their rights as though you could make a present of liberty. Remember the working man? You used to defend him quite a good deal. Well, he’s turning into something called organized labor and you don’t like that at all. And listen, when your precious underprivileged really get together – that’s going to add up to something bigger than your privilege and then I don’t know what you’ll do – sail away to a desert island, probably, and lord it over the monkeys.

This entitlement fuels the endless cycle of starting new charity projects which result in personal rejection, which result in a stronger need for new charity projects.

The narcissist maintains this projected image and invests resources and energy in it, sometimes depleting him to the point of rendering him vulnerable to external threats.


I am not saying that the narcissist does not have a central nucleus of a “self”. All I am saying is that he prefers his image – with which he identifies unreservedly – to his True Self. The True Self becomes serf to the Image. The narcissist, therefore, is not selfish – because his True Self is paralysed and subordinate.

The narcissist is not attuned exclusively to his needs. On the contrary: he ignores them because many of them conflict with his ostensible omnipotence and omniscience. He does not put himself first – he puts his self last. He caters to the needs and wishes of everyone around him – because he craves their love and admiration. It is through their reactions that he acquires a sense of distinct self. In many ways he annuls himself – only to re-invent himself through the look of others. He is the person most insensitive to his true needs.

-Sam Vaknin

Because he’s already hurting so much on the inside, Kane is practically invincible to negative feedback. In combination with his extraordinary talent, inhuman drive, and limitless resources, this DGAF attitude turns him into a force of nature.

THATCHER: I happened to see your consolidated statement yesterday, Charles. Could I not suggest to you that it is unwise for you to continue this philanthropic enterprise – (sneeringly) this Enquirer – that is costing you one million dollars a year?

KANE: You’re right. We did lose a million dollars last year. We expect to lost a million next year, too. You know, Mr. Thatcher – (starts tap dancing quietly) at the rate of a million a year – we’ll have to close this place in sixty years. (smiles mischievously)

However, the one thing Kane is not invincible to is the endless string of rejections and the lack of genuine connection which is slowly killing him inside, just like how a well-fed infant will die for no other reason than not being touched by another human.

The narcissist drains himself of mental energy in this process. This is why he has none left to dedicate to others. This fact, as well as his inability to love human beings in their many dimensions and facets, ultimately transform him into a recluse. His soul is fortified and in the solace of this fortification he guards its territory jealously and fiercely. He protects what he perceives to constitute his independence.

-Sam Vaknin

This is represented by an older Kane’s retreat into a literal fortified mansion, cleverly named Xanadu to contrast it with the Eden of his childhood. (If there is a non-Minecraft version of this scene out there, please let me know so I can use that instead.)

This self-imposed solitude is his last and most catastrophic tantrum of narcissistic rage, as well as the healthiest thing he can do for himself at that point. Having been rejected by the entire world, he rejects the world in turn.

This scene immediately follows:

The significance of the snowglobe is that it’s reminding him of his childhood home, playing in the snow with Rosebud.

RED HOT UPDATE from a concerned third-party observer:

Reportedly, this is Trump’s favorite movie.

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9 Responses to Citizen Kane: a master class in megalomania

  1. kensuimo says:

    “However, the one thing Kane is not invincible to is the endless string of rejections and the lack of genuine connection which is slowly killing him inside, just like how a well-fed infant will die for no other reason than not being touched by another human.”

    “On the one hand this detachment gives them the objectivity which enables their sociopathy, but on the other it starves them of real human connection so that the feeling of being seduced becomes an indulgent vice.”

    Any connection to alchemists, via the above? You theorized that a type idealizes itself as two rungs above its actual rank, whereas alchemists would be three above a demagogue.

  2. Obadiah says:

    Great post.

  3. Boneflour says:

    Solid. Some great posts coming out from the Aeolisphere recently.

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