Understanding Donald Trump Through His Favorite Film

December 7, 2016 5:00 am
Orson Welles takes the lead role in his film 'Citizen Kane.'  (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Orson Welles takes the lead role in his film 'Citizen Kane.' (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Donald Trump with his wife Malania (they filmed the movie in his building) at the Premiere of the movie "Tower Heist' at the Ziegfeld Theater. (Photo By: Richard Corkery/NY Daily News via Getty Images)
Donald Trump with his wife Melania at the premiere of the movie “Tower Heist’ at the Ziegfeld Theater in 2011: it was filmed at his building. (Richard Corkery/NY Daily News via Getty Images)
NY Daily News via Getty Images


Donald Trump has been in the public eye for three decades. (The Art of the Deal was published back in 1987.) Yet, with his election, there’s been a sudden surge in attempts to understand him. One of the most intriguing of these efforts is by Benjamin Hufbauer for Politico, exploring just what it means that Donald Trump has identified Citizen Kane as his favorite movie.

To start, it’s worth noting that Citizen Kane is the favorite movie of a lot of people. As Orson Welles’ debut, it is one of the most acclaimed works in film history. Yet it has particular significance for Trump and, as the man about to be president, it takes on a potential great importance for the entire nation.

On one level, it’s not surprising the movie would intrigue Trump: It’s about a rich man who masters the media and enters politics. Yet on another level, it’s not such a clear match. After all, in the film—spoiler alert for those a bit behind on their classic works of cinema—Charles Foster Kane loses and winds up isolated and miserable.

Orson Welles takes the lead role in his film 'Citizen Kane.' (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Orson Welles as the lead role in his film ‘Citizen Kane.’ (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


Hufbauer teases out small but intriguing connections: he notes that Kane even uses the line “You’re fired!” He also explores what Trump said he takes from the film. Trump’s lessons include “maybe wealth isn’t everything” and “wealth does, in fact, isolate you from other people.” For Hufbauer, though, the key statement by Trump is his observation that “It was a great rise in Citizen Kane. And there was a modest fall.” Hufbauer writes:

“That last line, however, suggests that Trump didn’t really understand the point of Citizen Kane, which was that Kane’s rise, too, was somewhat delusional and, in the end, a failure. And Trump clearly believes that, unlike Kane, he will have a great rise without any corresponding fall at all—not even a modest one.”

To read the full piece—which was published way back in June but takes on added intrigue in light of the election results—click here. Below, watch the original trailer for Citizen Kane, featuring some charming voiceover by Mr. Welles himself.

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