We live in uncertain times, times of post-truth, double-speak, identity politics as a good thing, identity politics as a bad thing – our reality is becoming harder and harder to measure. Luckily, I can watch films to distract myself from all of the confusion: an art form in which quality can actually be measured by Rotten Tomatoes Critics and Audience scores. According to the Rotten Tomatoes algorithm (what a scarily modern word that has become), it was recently officially announced that Citizen Kane not only wasn’t the best film ever made, but that Paddington was better than it (since then, a long-lost Paddington review has knocked it off the 100% spot, but I am in the process of scrubbing that from the internet and everyone’s memories so that the Great Bear gets the true respect he deserves). The friendly bear from darkest Peru has more cultural worth than an old tycoon and the story of his last words, or so it would seem. I have questions, all of which smashed themselves into my brain last night so, bear with me, dear reader, I don’t know if this makes any sense.
I may have overblown the supposed rivalry between the films, if anything, it’s just been a great excuse to figure out what values we give to some pieces of art over others. Plus, these are completely different films that can’t be compared…fuck it, lets compare Paddington to Citizen Kane.
You’re going to think that I’ve hit my head before writing this but it turns out that Paddington and Citizen Kane might be perfect companion pieces to each other. Their differences are obvious: Paddington is about a lonely bear who is sent to London to find a forever home. After much hijinks that include accidentally making things worse for those around him, then accidentally making things better for everyone around him, Paddington finds his place in the world in a harmonious comfort. You couldn’t get a more opposite character than Charles Foster Kane. Like Paddington, he looses his home at a young age when he is sold to a wealthy man to be his heir. Throughout his life, Kane amasses power through the newspaper business, and politics, cutting off friends and betraying loved ones until he is a lonely old man in an opulent palace. One is a story of the power of kindness and empathy, and the other is what happens to a man that loses both. Kane bares the most resemblance to Nicole Kidman’s character in Paddington, one who craves power and influence with the requisite daddy issues. One is a rags-to-emotional-riches story, the other a riches-to-emotional-rags one.
These films don’t just share parallel stories – they share the very joy of moviemaking. Even if Orson Welles’ masterpiece isn’t seen as the greatest movie of all time, or even the greatest movie in this article, Citizen Kane is a miracle of a creation. Much like the stylistic flourishes in Paddington, both films use the art of everything at their disposal in a way that always serves the story and characters while never feeling like either film is showing off.
But which one is better? How do we decide that? Personally, I’ll watch Paddington more over the course of my life (I’ve already seen it three times, and Citizen Kane just one), because it has the universal appeal that I know that I can watch it with nearly everyone I know and have them enjoy it. Paddington is a film for sharing, while modern tastes and trends have relegated Citizen Kane to just another film-buff name-drop between Stagecoach and The Last Picture Show. I’m no different, I first watched Kane because I was studying it in university, and their is also an in-built fear that old black and white films are harder to digest. For my British readers, Citizen Kane is on BBC iPlayer, it’s quite an experience, and a worthy and genuinely entertaining one to boot.
As for Paddington, well, he wins this contest because we need his Darkest Peruvian optimism right now. He’s a character that dares to tell us that life is simpler with a little kindness – maybe if little Charles had more of it his story would have been different.
Well, if this made sense then come back next week when I argue that Winne the Pooh and The Social Network are the same film and how the Care Bears are more like the Expendables than you think.
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By Kevin Boyle
(header image via Den of Geek)