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Picnic Scene in “Citizen Kane” Movie by Orson Welles


The film “Citizen Kane” is a 1941 drama motion picture directed by Orson Welles. The production narrates about a millionaire who seems to receive little happiness from his wealth and needs to hide his sensitive personality under the cynical mask. The present paper will analyze the Everglades Picnic scene which depicts the dissolution of the relationship between Kane and his second Wife, Susan. The four points of analysis will be mise en scene, or technical and emotional aspects of the interactions between the actors; cinematography, or photographic qualities and camera movement, editing, or the way the pieces of the scene are put together, and sound, from speech to sound effects. The main aim of the present paper is explaining how these four technical codes produce the effect of the irreversible damage and irreparable loss and how Kane’s family suddenly transforms into two separate personalities who have nothing in common, Charles and Susan.

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Mise en scene in the picnic segment

One of the prominent elements of the mise en scene code which plays an important role in the emotional perception of the segment is space as an element of setting. The scene in its main part creates a sense of limited space. The lush restaurant is crowded by guests and actors, who seem excited in this huge group. At the same time, in the “tent episode”, the size of the tent is shown very briefly and the camera further focuses on the interaction between the husband and the wife (Walsh, 2004, p.65). This means, there is an effect of the shrinking space in the specified episode, which means that from the perspective of the characters, when the argument begins, the space around them is narrowing until the concentration on the interlocutor is reached. This changing sense of space might have a symbolic meaning, as Susan and Charles might not feel comfortable when sharing physical and psychological space. In simpler terms, they are not able to get along, as Susan and Charles need a lot of personal space to assert their drastically differing beliefs and values.

In the context of character movement, it needs to be noted that Susan, Charles and party guests can not be referred to as expressive in their gestures. As the spouses are conversing, they faces remain cold, and the only notable gesture is Charles’s physical attack on Susan. The absence of clear and vibrant emotion expression in the scene points to the restrictions placed by the contemporary society on emotional communication. The inability and lack of power to reveal feelings through gestures and body movements can be viewed as factors contributing to the disruption of the marriage, as Susan finds no other constructive way to show her resentment than heightened tone of voice, whereas Charles hits the woman after losing his temper (Naremore, 2004, p.89).

The code of cinematography in the picnic segment

One of the cinematography devices, extreme wide shot, is used at the beginning of the picnic scene , for the purpose or showing the scale and magnificence of the top-class gathering and the readiness of Kane’s alleged admirers and friends to follow him. The extreme wide shot shows group of about twelve cars in the cortege led by Kane’s automobile. In the episodes which depict the restaurant party, predominantly wide shots are used, as the scene focuses on the contrast between the excited and joyous guests and the arguing couple, depicted in medium and close-up focuses which underline the dramatic nature of the quarrel. The close-up shot of Susan allows identifying pain and reproach in her eyes, while she is blaming Charles; further, the medium shot that precedes Charles’s words “I am not sorry” allows the final glance at the couple, who are formally still together. After Charles’s slap they are not perceived as a family, but as two unconnected and separated persons. In the picnic scene, the producer uses mostly horizontal angles, except for the episode with the motorcade, in which the cars are shot from above. One of the prominent episodes in which the angle is determinative is the depiction of the beginning of the conflict between Kane and Susan. As the woman is sitting in front of the man, an over-the-shoulder shot is used so that the viewer sees Susan’s back on the forefront and Charles’s face on the background. It is implied that the husband and the wife are not equals but rather rivals whose interests are currently clashing. Obviously, the producer avoids overusing two-shots when showing their argument, so the husband and the wife are initially hopeless in their search for the common ground as their positions under the camera demonstrate. Susan is more frequently shot from high angle in the “tent episode”, which might symbolically mean she is a victim of Kane’s aggression, whereas Kane, despite all expectations, is not showed from low angle, so he is not positioned as an aggressor and cannot be charged with the dissolution of the marriage. Thus, even though Susan perceives herself as a victim, it is implied by camera angles that the woman has also made a substantial contribution to the family destruction (Naremore, 2004, p.91; Carroll, 1998, p.156).

The element of editing in the segment

First of all, it needs to be noted that the shots are organized in the scene so that it can be divided into four shorter segments: firstly, Charles and Susan are shown arguing in the car; secondly, the beginning of the lush party is depicted; thirdly, the most important argument occurs between the characters.

In the present scene, the shots are put together for the purpose of creating a contrast between the events in the restaurant and the family drama in the tent. The sequence of shots is also intended as a transition from slower to quicker pace (Bordwell, p.220). In particular, the pace of the episode with dancing and singing people is fully determined by the slow jazz accompaniment of the party, which points to the idea that the guests are having fun leisurely, tasting each moment. At the same time, inside the tent the events are developing with greater speed: Susan suddenly begins to accuse Charles of neglecting her needs and disregarding her personality, Kane stands up and approaches her, trying to defend himself, but Susan, irritated by his explanations, offends his social status and receives a slap in her face as a result. Thus, the tent episode is so dynamic that it shows how quickly it is possible to break the relationship which has been carefully built year by year. In order to emphasize that both Susan and Charles are in fact right in their claims, the producer chose to alternate the shots of the man’s and the woman’s faces. Such editing decision also points to the idea that the mutual estrangement of the spouses and their subsequent separation are their common sorrow, so they are equal at least in terms of the loss both are experiencing (Carroll, 1998, p.157). The following shots of the party seem to have ironical purpose, as the situation in which the guests are still partying and singing, whereas the inviter and initiator is losing his family, is indeed absurd.

Distinctive features of sound use in the scene

The scene includes only diegetic sound, or the sound which comes directly from the characters or objects present on the screen. Music appears in those episodes which represent the gathering, and the jazz songs are used to highlight the relaxed mood and pace of the celebration. At the same time, the use of silence as a “background sound” for the conversation between Charles and Susan allows emphasizing the emotional tension of their argument without switching to any other sounds. Analyzing the timbres and tones of the man’s and the woman’s voices, one can assume that hysterical notes appear in Susan’s speech from the very beginning; moreover, she apparently overuses heightened tone; her voice is so thin that is seems like she is trying to offend and “sting” her spouse with the very tone of her voice. Therefore, the overall atmosphere of the scene seems “covertly hysterical” and strained, so that it is apparent that both characters are trying hard to keep their irritation and aggression inside, but finally let it out in the face-to-face conversation. Kane’s voice is much smoother at the beginning of their argument, as he is trying to console the woman. However, having heard her claims, he begins to speak in a colder tone and louder timbre, the “sound climax” of the scene takes place when Kane’s voice almost breaks down to shout, he attacks the woman and they talk in the lowered voice afterwards. The most important phrase, “I’m not sorry”, is pronounced with coldness and firmness in Kane’s voice so that it seems like all the feelings he ever had for his beau are either “dead” or “paralyzed”. In addition, it is also clear that the stream of emotions like aggression and irritation revealed earlier in the argument have weakened. The assertive voices of both characters after the episode of violence against Susan reveal their determination to finish the relationship; moreover, this changed timbre creates a sense of irreversibility of the harm they caused to their marriage.

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To sum up, the four technical codes can be viewed as the combination of elements which underline the dramatic nature of the scene. As a whole, they provide a comprehensive psychological picture of the relationship between Susan and Charles. In particular, the mise en scene is “responsible” for showing the influence of the social environment and top-class values on the characters, both of whom are eager to protect their social status and committed to the destructive communication patterns (e.g. insufficient emotion expression, lack of motivation for reaching consensus and mutual understanding) attributed to their social class. Both of them are equally eager to defend their personal psychological space. The code of cinematography reveals the emotions the characters are experiencing, particularly, indignation, irritation and anxiety. The analysis of editing shows that the short and abusive conversation might drastically change the life of the family and destroy the ostensibly firm union, as the scene is extremely short and at the same time appears to be a defining moment in the characters’ life. Finally, the sound as used in the motion picture, especially the changes in the characters’ tones and timbres, points to the idea that it is impossible to make Kane and Susan match together again.


  1. Walsh, J. (2004). Walking shadows: Orson Welles, William Randolph Hearst, and Citizen Kane. Popular Press.
  2. Naremore, J. (2004). Orson Welles’s citizen Kane: a casebook. Oxford University Press.
  3. Carringer, R. (1996). The making of Citizen Kane. University of California Press.
  4. Carroll, N. (1998). Interpreting the moving image. Cambridge University Press.
  5. Bordwell, D. (2000) Film Art: an Introduction, 6th edition. McGraw-Hill Education.

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"Picnic Scene in “Citizen Kane” Movie by Orson Welles." StudyCorgi, 22 Jan. 2022,

1. StudyCorgi. "Picnic Scene in “Citizen Kane” Movie by Orson Welles." January 22, 2022.


StudyCorgi. "Picnic Scene in “Citizen Kane” Movie by Orson Welles." January 22, 2022.


StudyCorgi. 2022. "Picnic Scene in “Citizen Kane” Movie by Orson Welles." January 22, 2022.


StudyCorgi. (2022) 'Picnic Scene in “Citizen Kane” Movie by Orson Welles'. 22 January.

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