Thursday, February 18, 2016

1940s Week: The Human Condition in Casablanca (1942)

Written for 1940s Week hosted by An Old Fashioned Girl. ❤
For at least 15 years I held off on watching Casablanca. It's one of my parents' favorite movies, my dad's especially, but I never really appreciated or even liked Humphrey Bogart until just a couple of years ago and even then I limited myself to his films with Lauren Bacall. Casablanca just was not on my radar, at least, not until a few weeks ago when my folks talked me into watching it with them.

It utterly enthralled me.

Some movies you watch once and that's more than enough, or you may watch it again, but only because it's entertaining or fun for one reason or another. Casablanca is both of these and yet neither. It is . . . eternal, overflowing with dilemmas and heartaches that are relevant no matter the era. If a film could ever be called timeless, it is Casablanca.

I was hardly 1/2 an hour into watching it before ideas and thoughts started jumping around in my head regarding the ramifications of the moral choices made by these characters. Oh my goodness, it can be so HARD to do the right thing! I know that I've felt it and I'm sure all of you have felt that pull towards the "dark side," sometimes giving in and sometimes resisting poor moral choices. It's a part of the human condition brought on by sin.

So you have Humphrey Bogart's character, Rick Blaine. He's embittered by past disappointments and runs an Americana nightclub in Casablanca, Morocco in an attempt to what? Forget. Maybe, but it can be any one of a number of different reasons why he's gone so far away from what most Americans would consider a normal life. He’s running from his past, not because he was a criminal or anything like that, but because of memories.

Have you noticed how long our memories are? Especially when we’re been hurt. Rick is the perfect example of a man bound by his memories . . . memories that were once beautiful and precious to him but had turned sour because the situation surrounding them turned sour. Our reaction to our memories is the one thing that can truly bind us as people.

It’s so easy for us to so lock ourselves away because of something that happened or something that we, ourselves, did in our past. This is Rick Blaine’s curse.

So when the girl who wrought all those beautiful memories, Ilsa played by the stunning Ingrid Bergman, comes BACK into his life, with her fiancé who was once in a Nazi concentration camp and is on the run, well, what should Rick do?

They come into his nightclub one night and Rick’s world that he so carefully constructed of paper and glue collapses. The memories he’d attempted to lock away swirl back in and he realizes that he’s never been able to move on from the glorious months he spent being in love with Ilsa when they were in Paris together. But now she’s engaged to another man, not his to hold, and she’s asking for his help because he happens to have letters of safe passage that could get her and her fiancé, Victor (Paul Henreid) to safety in the states. Because the Nazis have taken control of Casablanca and escape is almost impossible.

This story is a whirlwind of emotions.

I’ve never seen Bogart so gloriously authentic and REAL in his acting. Rick Blaine, with all his cares and sorrows, was so very human, just as Ilsa was so very human in her love for Victor and then her the conflict she feels because she also loves Rick.

What is the human condition?

In this case, it is the anguish that comes with making the right choices even when you feel you might die inside because of it.

If you’ve read my previous post on The Philadelphia Story then you know why I didn’t like that film. It makes light of immorality, presents it humorously as a comedy of errors. Immorality should never be presented in such a way because than it is easy for people to forget that it is far nobler to do the HARD but RIGHT thing than it is to follow the easy path that was presented for laughs in The Philadelphia Story.

As the story of Casablanca unfolds and speeds towards its climax, the audience discovers 2 things. One is that Ilsa and Victor are married and were married when Ilsa and Rick were involved in Paris. Two is that Ilsa believed Victor to be dead in a concentration camp because that is the information she was given. Only at the very, very end of Ilsa’s time with Rick in Paris does she learn that Victor is still alive.

What does she do?

By this point, she desperately loves Rick, a man of many emotional layers and levels to his being, both good and bad at the same time, so very human and so very much in love with her. She tells him, yes, she will go away with him on the train. They will escape Paris together before the Nazis invade. And then she does the hardest, most heartbreaking thing imaginable. She never meets Rick on the platform and he gets on the train alone, confused and confounded by her abandonment.

Ilsa learned that the right thing is not always the easy thing, and in fact, it rarely is the easy thing.

Now, a few years later, Ilsa and Rick are reunited, just as Ilsa and her husband were reunited that very same day that Rick left Paris. And now it is his turn to be strong. She is emotionally exhausted. Frightened for Victor’s life because he is such a vocal outcry against the Nazis and now she is near Rick again. Her heart is weary and she is weak and still so very much in love with Rick.

One of the most memorable moments in Casablanca is when Ilsa sees Sam (Dooley Wilson), the piano player who knew both her and Rick in Paris. Sam’s fondness for both of them knows no bounds but he also knows the danger. And he knows their song. When Ilsa asks, “Play it once, Sam. For old times’ sake,” he pretends ignorance. She keeps pleading with him and eventually Sam breaks down and plays “As Time Goes by,” THEIR song, hers and Rick’s. Memory is powerful and alluring and seductive, so easy to fall into old patterns, into the love that once was.

Her ache for Rick is so strong that Ilsa confesses to him, “I can't fight it anymore. I ran away from you once. I can't do it again. Oh, I don't know what's right any longer. You have to think for both of us. For all of us.” The iconic quote that pretty much the entire world recognizes is spoken in this scene when Rick says, “All right, I will. Here’s looking at you, kid.”

Now it is on Rick’s shoulders to make a choice. Ilsa will do anything for him, literally anything. She will stay with him if he asks it, run away with him if he asks, no matter whether she’s married or not because she is so very tired.

I love this movie so much because of Rick’s decision. No, he says to himself. He cannot do it to her. What they shared in Paris was a beautiful and once-in-a-lifetime kind of love, precious and rare. But it is not theirs to keep. No, instead it must stay as a memory. So Rick gives her up, putting her on the plane with her husband, despite her tears, because he knows it is the right thing, just as, in her deepest soul, Ilsa knows it is the right thing.

Making the morally right decision is not easy or simple. It can tear you up inside. But now Rick knows why Ilsa left him on that platform to board the train alone. He knows she is married and was married although she believed her husband was dead. He knows and he understands and he will not ask her to sacrifice herself to a love that should not be between them. Instead, the memories of Paris are enough.

My feelings regarding this story are so deep and complete. Everything good and right and beautiful is incorporated in Casablanca. It handles real life temptations in a tangible and realistic way while still incorporating a solidly RIGHT decision at the end. No doubt there are some viewers who disagree and think that Rick and Ilsa should have stayed together, but the message of the film would have been lost with that scenario, making Casablanca just another immoral Hollywood film. Humphrey Bogart was TOP NOTCH as Rick Blaine, revealing hidden depths to the character and reminding me of how amazing an actor he was in his heyday. Ingrid Bergman is amazing and the perfect pairing for Bogart in this film. Throw in the secondary characters played by Peter Lorre and Claude Rains and it’s no wonder that Casablanca remains at the top of the top 100 films list. It is the best and brightest of not only 1940s film noir, but one of the best films of all time.


  1. I love the ending! It's so complicated and sad. :)

    1. That it is. The entire film is awash with complex and conflicting emotions, quite a feat on the part of the writers and the actors.

  2. I've always found the subplot interesting -- how Rick arranges for the young woman and her husband to get out of the city without her needing to prostitute herself to Claude Raines' character. So much to think about there -- everyone's motives, the moral dilemma, how I might react in her place.

    Interesting film, overall.

    1. Yep, I thought about writing a little on Claude Raines' character and his moral flaws, but decided I would keep to the main characters. He's really a manipulative jerk, but you can't help but halfway like him because he's not all bad. Because I went for so many years without experiencing Casablanca, I feel like I need to watch it a few times this year to catch all of the nuances and let the story fully sink in.

  3. Wow, what a great analysis of the characters and their thoughts and motivations!!
    I also loved Bogart's acting - he really makes Rick Blaine come to life.
    And that ending - it was so beautiful how he made the choice he knew to be right for both of them, even though it was very hard.

    1. Thanks, Rose! I found this film very inspiring and that inspiration sprang out in my writing. I need to go through your blog posts this weekend and do some responding. Life has been so hectic.


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