Orson Welles was always embarrassed by Rosebud. “It’s a gimmick, really,” he told interviewers, “and rather dollar book Freud.” The mystery of “the great man’s last words” was, like the reporter Thompson charged with solving it, “a piece of machinery” designed to lead the audience through the fragmented plot.
The solution to the mystery is supposed to be that we, like Kane’s friends, lovers, and confidantes, discover that “the great man” is actually hollow inside. There is nothing there — no lost love, no moral truths, no imparted wisdom. “Rosebud” is just a missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle. It has no special value other than that it is missing. Kane the man, like Kane the film, is what Borges called it: a labyrinth without a center.