What Does Rosebud Mean in “Citizen Kane,” According to Donald Trump? Why’s His Interpretation Ironic?


These days we are all getting our fill of Donald Trump as a loud, scandalous potential presidential nominee. But in an 2008 Errol Morris video, Donald Trump took a turn as a film critic who gave his take on the most popular question asked about Citizen Kane (1941): what is the meaning of “Rosebud”?

Trump’s take on the film is notably ironic due to the connection viewers will automatically draw between Trump and the main character, the wealthy Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles). Trump relates his critique of the movie in rather vague and simple language, something he has become sort of an expert in during this presidential election cycle. He reflects, “Citizen Kane is really about the accumulation and at the end of the accumulation you see what happens and it’s not necessarily positive.” Not only does the statement feel like a very meta take on the film, but it also potentially calls into question statements he has made during his 2016 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Trump has based his personal brand on his immense wealth, implying that this accumulation of money proves he can manage our government successfully. In Morris’ video, though, he suggests that there’s more to life than money; indeed, accumulating wealth can lead to a negative outcome. This seemingly contradicts the underpinnings of his campaign’s messaging, which focuses on the massive development of casinos, hotels and other ventures associated with the Trump name as evidence of a successful and fulfilled life.

In Morris’ video, Trump offers up some basic analysis of certain scenes, including one wherein Kane and his wife are eating at a table. Trump points out that the table between Kane and his wife gets bigger as the Kane’s wealth grows, making the two characters grow farther apart both spatially and emotionally. This is a classic instance of film symbolism that the mogul points out for us.

Trump also calls wealth an isolating thing in the video: “In real life, I believe that wealth does in fact isolate you from other people. It’s a protective mechanism. You have your guard up, much more so than you would if you didn’t have wealth.” But while he grants that it may pull Charles Kane away from his loved ones, in his campaign Trump has called out numerous friends, showing off alliances with everyone from Oprah to Tom Brady, giving the impression that he doesn’t feel his money has made him lonely.

As for the question of what “Rosebud” means, Trump says that it could possibly be to “bring back a lonely, rather sad figure back into his childhood.” What is Trump trying to get at here? Trump’s statement doesn’t make much sense, but, giving him the benefit of the doubt, he could be saying that Kane wishes to return to his innocence. Trump’s wording is odd, suggesting that he might not have a clear understanding of the film. A common interpretation of “Rosebud” (which we learn at the end of the film is the sled that Kane was playing with when he was taken away from his home as a child) is that the sled symbolizes Kane’s regret for the family values and simple happinesses that he left behind on his path to greatness.

To end Trump’s critique, the businessman can’t help but insert some of his own sexist charm. His final words of advice to Kane, which completely disregard the actions of men in the film, are: “Get yourself a different woman.” Interestingly, in the film, Kane’s second marriage was to a show girl, while Trump has married two show girls and a model.

The video is haunting because this take on the classic movie comes from a boisterous figure whom we identify with the main character of Citizen Kane. Regardless of the the intent behind the clip, it is interesting to watch now, eight years later, as Trump has graduated from amateur film critic to potential President of the United States.