The year is 1941. The place is Casablanca in French Morocco. Casablanca is a stepping-stone for immigrants fleeing enslaved Europe for the freedom of America. But the passage is expensive and often dangerous.
Casablanca: An Overview
The film’s protagonist is Rick Blaine, the cynical, hard-boiled owner of a popular nightclub. Rick is an isolationist: “I stick my neck out for nobody,” he tells everyone. And yet a few years back, Rick ran guns to Ethiopia and fought for the Loyalists in Spain. In fact, he risked his life to stop fascist armies, and Rick’s contempt for the Nazis is obvious. So, we are moved to ask, why has Rick changed? What happened to him?
We get something of an answer when two refugees come to Rick’s Café: Ilsa Lund, Rick’s lost love, and her husband, Victor Laszlo, a Czech resistance leader. We learn that Rick and Ilsa were together in Paris when the Nazis took the city. They planned to flee together, but Ilsa abandoned Rick without explanation. While Rick admires Laszlo’s work, he associates it with Ilsa’s betrayal. He is unwilling to help either of them. As the plot unfolds, we—and Rick as well— learn what actually happened in Paris. Rick has to come to terms with the past and present and then choose his future.
Moral Considerations In Casablanca
The story assumes some ethical black-and-whites. Obviously, the Nazis are evil. On the other hand, loyalty and freedom are good. Nevertheless, the melodramatic Romanticism that surrounds the film leaves other issues less than clear.
For example, some of the minor characters are part of the French underground. Is resistance to tyrants a Godly thing or a failure to kiss the rod of God’s judgment? Moreover, the sniveling Ugarte provides exit visas for those who can’t afford to bribe the police. Is he a blessing to his fellow men or just a petty parasite? Ferrari delivers black market services to those who can’t afford market prices. Does this act entail resistance to socialism or the beginnings of a criminal cartel?
Then there’s Police chief Renault. The film paints him as humorous and debonair. However, Renault uses the Nazi restrictions on emigration to extort sexual favors from the desperate women who parade through his office. We never see his repentance. Should we accept him as a hero when he finally defies the Nazis?
Rick Blaine And His Complications
Rick’s isolation from life and the War can give us more to chew on. Rick is an American. America was officially neutral until December 8, 1941. Rick’s work in Spain and Ethiopia was technically illegal. Now he refuses to get involved at all. Is he—was he—right or wrong? At what point is a man obligated to resist tyranny that hasn’t reached his shores just yet?
And, of course, we have to consider Rick and Ilsa’s relationship. They think they’re in love. The powerful influence of Romanticism on our culture has taught us to believe that “true love” justifies anything, including desertion and adultery. Should we expect Rick and Ilsa to end up together? If they do, are they really heroes? And if we expect it, are we thinking like Christians?
One more thing and this is tied up with an odd fact about the film. Nearly all of the seventy-five plus actors and actresses who appear in Casablanca were themselves, immigrants. Most had fled Nazi tyranny. This may explain some of the energy and sincerity that makes the film more than simply corny propaganda. So, here we have immigrants playing immigrants. . . and heroes and villains. They came together to give us one of the greatest films of all time. This raises a contemporary question: what should a country do with wartime immigrants?
How much sympathy and help do we owe those who want to escape the ravages of war and tyranny? Does the Parable of the Good Samaritan have more than an individual application? In short, Casablanca gives us a lot to think about.
You may also consider reading another Live The Adventure Letter article: Movie Review: The Secret Of Kells
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