In Orson Welles' film, Citizen Kane, how are shadows and an absence of light used to  portray Kane's dominance over his second wife Susan Alexander? Which techniques are used to signify this...

In Orson Welles' film, Citizen Kane, how are shadows and an absence of light used to  portray Kane's dominance over his second wife Susan Alexander? Which techniques are used to signify this domination and which scenes are the best examples?   

Asked on by missypms

2 Answers | Add Yours

billdelaney's profile pic

William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

There is another very excellent scene in Citizen Kane in which Kane's domination of Susan is shown with light and shadow. They are living in an big apartment. Kane has just received an envelope from Jed Leland in which his old friend returns the check Kane sent him after firing him in Chicago. Susan is becoming rebellious. She berates Kane for apparently rewarding Leland with a huge severance payment after Jed had started to write such a scathing review of her performance in the opera. Then she tells Kane she is through with opera singing. She has taken enough raspberries. Her voice was never much good to begin with, but it becomes a most unpleasant shriek while she is expressing her deciswion to defy Kane and give up opera. Kane listens to her for a bit and then looms over her, blocking out the light on her face. It almost seems like an eclipse. She is completely intimidated. The audience realizes that he is much too strong a character for her to oppose. He is a great, important man. She is a nobody. Furthermore, it is of the utmost importance to him that she should become a star soprano. This is not for her sake but for his. He wants the public to believe that he gave up his wife and son for the sake of a woman who was truly gifted and not for the sake of a sordid extramarital affair with a shop girl who earned a meager living selling records and sheet music in a department store.

akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Kane's domination of Susan Alexander is a significant aspect of his character.  It enables us to understand much about him and helps to characterize him in a controlling manner that extends to people and emotions. Welles is able to develop distinct techniques in Citizen Kane that enhance this characterization.

Such techniques present themselves in the very first scene where the audience meets Susan.  With a high angle shot of Susan, it is as if Kane dominates her even when he is not there.  The high angle shot reveals a woman who is broken and weakened.  Susan Alexander does not strike the audience as being filled with strength and resolve.  She is shown with a camera angle from above, almost looming over her.  The high angle shot also enhances Kane's domination over her through her body language.  She is shown hunched over the table, her eyes filled with a narrative that shows pain and embedded hurt.  She is dominated, submissive to what consciousness has placed in front of her. This is enhanced by the camera angle from above.  The use of lighting is also significant in this scene. Light is not shown directly on Susan.  She operates in the shadows, literally and figuratively.  Light usually refers to liberation and strength.  However, she is not shown to be a source of strength and power. At the same time, shadow is used as another lighting technique.  The shadow crosses over her face, almost subsuming her. The shadow of Kane and his hold on her, his control over her, is reflected in the shadow technique. Welles uses light and shadow as a way to communicate how Susan was withered away by what Kane did to her.  In this introduction scene to Susan, light, cinematography, and shadows are all ways in which Kane's control over her is accentuated and communicated. 

In one of the first scenes where Kane meets Susan, the use of shadow and lighting is used again to convey control and dominance.  Susan complains of a toothache and Kane pursues her inside her apartment. The deep focus technique is evident, as we see hallway, door, vanity and both lovers. Yet, Kane steps into the foreground, cutting off our view of Susan, and shuts the door.  In a way, the darkness that drops on the scene helps to communicate how Kane wishes to control Susan, almost cutting her off from the rest of the world.  When she "restores light" with opening her door, saying that her landlady wishes the door to be open when there are "gentlemen callers," she is not able to restore full light.  Kane speaks to her in with a dark shadow on his face, a similar shadow that the viewer noted when we were first introduced to Susan.  It is almost as if the darkness that Kane possesses is something that he transfers onto her after they have been together.  Shadow communicates a malevolence and darkness in Kane, evidenced in how he treats Susan and those who have the cursed condition of being with him. Later in the scene, Kane stands over her, trying to console her. The viewer sees Kane standing over Susan through the reflection in a mirror.  The use of cinematic elements conveys how Kane dominates her, standing over her with a presence that cannot be fully seen. The mirror operates as a type of "looking- glass" that communicates Kane's dominance over her in a scene where tenderness and love should be present.  Once again, lighting and cinematography help to convey the dominant nature that Kane exerted on Susan.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,915 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question