Sometimes love blindsides us.
We glance at a woman in a café and listen to her speaking with her friend, and she sweeps us away. We open a book by an unfamiliar author, and from the first few sentences we’re enthralled. We taste a cup of tea we’ve never tried, and we’re hooked.
So it happened when I first saw “Casablanca.”
Since then, I have watched this movie numerous times and have never grown tired of it. The doomed love of Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) and Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), the high idealism and courage of Ilsa’s husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), the secondary characters perfectly suited to their roles, and the impeccable script always move me. (For those unfamiliar with “Casablanca,” you’ll find a synopsis and review here at The Epoch Times. Better yet, watch the movie!)
Battered by an ongoing pandemic and a tumultuous election, many Americans, including me, feel as if we are in a storm at sea, without respite from fierce winds and driving rain.
Lessons drawn from “Casablanca” can help us navigate these troubled waters.
Wit and Verve
Our story is set in Casablanca in Morocco during World War II, which is under the thumb of the Vichy French government and Nazi Germany, in the days just before the United States enters the war. Refugees seeking to escape Nazi tyranny have flooded this city, seeking an escape first to Portugal and then to America.
Not all of those in Casablanca bend a knee to their oppressors. When a Nazi officer asks Rick, an American who owns a café in Casablanca, “What is your nationality?” Rick replies, “I’m a drunkard,” which brings chuckles even from the stiff-necked Germans. When the same officer asks Rick what he thinks would happen if the Nazis invaded New York City, Rick answers, “Well, there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn’t advise you to try to invade.”
Throughout “Casablanca,” the scriptwriters insert other, sharp witticisms, many of them coming from Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains), a policeman who exhibits that savoir-faire associated then with the French. At one point, Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) says to Captain Renault of the café, “I advise that this place be shut up at once” to which Renault replies, “But everybody’s having such a good time.”
Forced to find a reason to close the café, Captain Renault tells Rick, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here,” at which point a croupier emerges from the casino, holds out a fistful of cash to the policeman, and says, “Your winnings, sir.”
Near the end of the movie, when Rick finds himself forced to hold a revolver on Renault, he says, “Remember this gun is pointed right at your heart.” I smile every time I hear Renault’s cynical reply, “That is my least vulnerable spot.”
These people face times as dire and horrific as our own, yet they refuse to buckle to their oppressors or surrender their dignity or their sense of humor.
Lesson 1: Put on a bold front and remember to laugh, especially at the absurd. Laughter truly is good medicine.
Though Rick promises Ilsa that they will stay together after her husband and resistance war hero Victor gets safely away, he changes that plan and arranges safe passage for both Ilsa and Victor on the flight out of Casablanca. When Ilsa asks him for an explanation, Rick gives her the logical reasons why she must go and he must stay.
In making this decision, Rick reminds viewers of the need for analysis and rational thinking. He recognizes the importance of Laszlo’s work in carrying on the fight against the Nazis and knows that Laszlo needs Ilsa at his side. He also knows that if Ilsa were to remain with him in Casablanca, both of them would likely end up in a concentration camp, a point reinforced by Captain Renault.
Lesson 2: Think, plan, prepare. Then act.
The Inspiration of Others
“Casablanca” is a classroom teaching the importance of emulation. If we are to improve ourselves, if we are to embrace the good, often we need the example of others to light our way down a path thick with shadows and obstacles.
When we first meet Rick, he is a cynic, crippled by love, aloof from all who know him, a man who has turned his back on the world. “I stick my neck out for nobody,” Rick declares, and he means it.
Enter Ilsa and Victor. Once Ilsa finally has the chance to explain why, a few years before, she didn’t show up at the train yard to meet Rick and flee Paris ahead of the Nazis, Rick realizes that she has never stopped loving him, and his wounded heart is restored. That realization also gives him the courage to save both Victor and Ilsa from the Nazis.