Mank Ending Defined: What Occurred Subsequent in Actual Life?

[Editor’s note: The following article discusses specific story points from the entirety of the film Mank. If you haven’t seen it, turn back now.]

When it was first announced David Fincher made a film about screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and his work on Citizen KaneMost expected the film to deal with the battle for credit that developed between Mank and co-writer / producer / director / star Mank Orson Welles. But it turns out Mank is more interested in the inspiration for Citizen Kane and what made Mank seek it William Randolph Hearst than it is in the actual making of Citizen Kane. And since the movie Deficiency ends with Mank and Welles bumping into each other in public. If you’re not familiar with the story that happened after Mank delivered his first draft, you can leave the film a little confused. So let’s see what happened between Herman Mankiewicz and Orson Welles while we were doing Citizen Kane.

To recap: At the end of Fincher’s film Mank (played by Gary Oldman) has completed his first draft of the script for Citizen Kane, and Welles comes to his secluded room in Victorville to discuss it. When Mank first took the job, he agreed that he would not receive credit and that he would write a first draft which would then be rewritten by Welles. This was not unknown to Mank, as he made a living in Hollywood from uncredited scripts for dozens of major films. But, as Mank points out, the beleaguered writer suffered a downturn in his career in the 1930s, and when he realized that Citizen Kane might be the best he has ever written, he decided to be recognized for his work. That doesn’t go well with Welles and the two of them have a blowout.

Mank Orson Welles Gary Oldman

Image via Netfli

The film ends with a look at the Academy Awards, where Citizen Kane wins his only Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. “Mank, you can kiss my half,” said Welles from Rio de Janeiro when asked about the win and if he had a message for Mank. Herman, on the other hand, was more detailed in his acceptance speech:

“You ask me what my acceptance speech could have been. Let’s go I am very excited to accept this award in the way the script was written. That is, in the absence of Orson Welles. ”

After the first draft of the script was written, Mank and Welles continued to rewrite and adapt the story. According to Welles, Mank’s draft was too harsh for Kane / Hearst, while Welles claimed to have empathy for his title character.

Ruling that he did indeed want a formal loan, Mank filed a formal protest with the Screen Writers Guild, then withdrew and resubmitted it. And in January 1941, RKO Pictures – which Citizen Kane produced – loaned the Mankiewicz script alongside Welles. For the public, both contributed equally to this amazing feat of filmmaking. But rumors swirled around Hollywood about the tension between the two and who was doing most of the legwork.

Mank Orson Welles Tom Burke

Image via Netflix

The big question of who actually wrote Citizen Kane was mostly asked in film reviews Pauline Kael‘s essay “Raising Kane,” published in 1971. This essay claimed that Mank was the lead writer on Citizen Kane and minimized Welles’ role in creating the script. It would eventually turn out to be the main source for the essay John HousemanMank, who was guarding Mank when he was writing the original Kane draft in Victorville, and which Welles would suspect, Mank had turned against him.

Kael’s essay was not well received by everyone as a filmmaker and Welles’ friend Peter Bogdonavich wrote his own counter-argument entitled “The Kane Mutiny”. And then in 1978 Robert L. Carringer published an essay titled “The Scripts of Citizen Kane,” examining all of the existing drafts of the Citizen Kane script and attempting to calm the debate once and for all. While browsing through the various drafts, Carringer concluded that Welles had contributed significantly – but not exclusively – to the script for Citizen Kane, including the characters, story, and portrayal of Kane in relation to Hearst.

Which, frankly, is where deficiency ends. Yes, we just saw Mank put out this massive first draft of Citizen Kane, but a first draft is not a finished movie. And even if Welles hadn’t been a major contributor to Citizen Kane, would it be considered one of the best films ever made if it hadn’t directed it? A script is a script, and Mank’s narratives were certainly ambitious, but Kane’s visual style is also part of what made it groundbreaking.

Mank Gary Oldman

Image via Netflix

Filmmaking is a collaborative medium, Mank points out – which is funny when you consider that Fincher is celebrated by many as an auteur filmmaker. Some may make more substantial contributions than others, but when it comes to the finished film there is a strange alchemy due to the collaboration between the writer and director, not to mention the contributions of the cameraman, production designer, costume designer, and cast, the Editor etc.

So who is the author of Citizen Kane? All of the above. What Mank highlights, however, is what drives one of his architects personally and how his specific life experiences later manifest themselves in the collaborative finished film.

And that’s the magic of the movies.

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About the author

Adam Chitwood
(15476 articles published)

Adam Chitwood is the Managing Editor for Collider. He has worked for Collider for over a decade. In addition to managing content, it also covers craft interviews, award ceremonies, and co-moderating the Collider podcast with Matt Goldberg (which has been running since 2012). He is the creator and writer of Collider’s “How the MCU Was Made” series and has interviewed Bill Hader on every single episode of Barry. He lives in Tulsa, OK, and enjoys pasta, 90s thriller, and spends 95% of his time with his dog Luna.

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