We’re going into the depths of my over-stuffed DVR for ‘Movies Chelsea Recorded But Hasn’t Bothered Watching And Deleting Yet’ for this one.
Casablanca (1942) Dir. Michael Curtiz Writ: Julius Epstien, Philip Epstien Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman Rated PG 102 mins. Drama, War, Romance IMDB 8.6
To start with, this is one of the most famous movies that I only saw in the last couple of years, really. It was so highly praised I thought it was probably shit. Often some of the most historic films are pretty fucking dull apart from off-screen things that were related to it. And since this is considered the best movie of all times, I really didn’t expect it to be all that good.
Annnnnnd I ended up pretty much agreeing. I don’t know if I’d say THE BEST but it’s definitely one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, that’s for sure.
Casablanca tells the story of an American named Rick Blaine who runs a bar in Casablanca, Morocco, one of the last unoccupied French territories during World War 2. Casablanca was a jumping off point for refugees fleeing the Third Reich as it was one of the last places where someone in that time could catch a flight or boat to get to Lisbon, Portugal and then try and make it to America. During a time of mass influx as the Third Reich get closer and closer to instituting their control over Casablanca, Rick’s life is turned upside down by the reappearance of Ilsa Lund, a woman with whom he had a whirlwind romance in Paris before the German occupation forced him to flee. She didn’t flee with him and so, with his broken heart, he moved on to Casablanca to build a life there. When she shows up, with a man Rick finds out is none other than her husband, Victor Lazlo, Rick’s world is turned upside down once again.
Honestly, I think one of the reasons I didn’t expect so much from this movie is that the way it’s talked about in most circles doesn’t appeal to me as much as the actual film ended up being. By this, what I mean is that people always talk about it almost exclusively as a great tragic romance film and that’s all they seem to talk about.
This film is SO much more than that.
To start with, I’ll get it out of the way and say I always assumed she cheated on her husband with Rick from the way people talked about it and that instantly made me dislike her. When I watched the movie, it was one that I had to watch for a film class, and when I discovered pretty early on in the film that (spoiler alert) she thought her husband was dead, fell in love with Rick, then found out he wasn’t and decided to go back to him, I love that as the story rather than some torrid affair crap. I’m never okay with adultery unless the person being cheated on is the ‘bad guy’ in a film. It’s not romantic to cheat on your husband, but what is incredibly romantic is to discover that your husband you mourned is actually still alive and that this love now may be real, but it is fleeting and based on escaping the horrors of life, so it is best to go back to the man you truly want to build a life with.
It is sad, it’s very sad, that she and Rick had to fall in love at the wrong time. What they had was real and it’s sad that they were only able to have something short. But the fact that she chose her husband, the man she wanted to have a life with, is also beautiful and it’s fitting. Especially since her husband was the kind of man that, upon finding out his wife was with another man, understood and didn’t blame her for it. Even these days, in a ‘modern’ world where a wife isn’t often treated like a possession, most men would freak the fuck out and Victor just gave her the ‘I get it, it’s okay’ speech and that was it.
And it’s such a beautiful love story either way you look at it. It’s possible to love two people at the same time but in different ways, and Ilsa’s choice is the one I hoped she would go with while watching it.
But most of all, though I spoke at length about the love story in the film, the movie is so much more than that. Casablanca is a film that was made about a very modern topic, and like the opening explains (which is actually something about World War 2 I didn’t know), this film is set in December of 1941 and this was a place that was the last hope of survival for so many people. In a way it seems sort of like a neutral zone where some of everybody comes to do their dealings, the good and the bad, and in amongst the profiteers and refugees, there are people who are just making a life while they can. You have bartenders and lounge singers and musicians who are all there just to live in all the chaos. They aren’t fleeing or conquering, they aren’t hiding or standing up, they’re just living while they still can.
The whole movie is an allegory for the way life was for people at that time. It was all about sacrifice and hard choices and moral lines were so blurred it was hard to have a ‘good guy’ and ‘bad guy’ in most situations. Look at the young couple from Bulgaria, with the wife contemplating prostitution to get her and her husband exit papers, while her husband gambles away what little they have left in hopes he can make enough money to buy their exit papers. Look at Captain Renault, who, for most of the film, flows with the current and goes to whatever side is best for his own interests in situations. Rick himself is neither a good man or a bad one, since he is nationless for reasons we learn are not that chivalrous.
There is so much in this film that stirs your emotions, tugs at heartstrings, and fills you with an overwhelming sense of the struggles and sacrifices of the people in this film. And that’s today, in 2016, when World War 2 is a horrible memory that doesn’t even seem real most of the time because it was too terrible to comprehend. This was in 1942, when World War 2 was a very real, very current, very scary thing that nobody could escape thinking about.
My favorite scene in this movie, and the one scene in the whole film that makes me cry every time even though I know its coming, is the scene when the Nazi officers take over the piano and begin singing “Die Wacht am Rhein”. Victor Lazlo walks over to the house band and instructs them to start playing “La Marseillaise” and everybody in the bar jumps in, singing over the Nazis and standing from their chairs and putting their hearts into singing the French national anthem in one of the last unoccupied French territories left. It’s just such a powerful moment. These people have lost so much, and they’ve witnessed their home taken from them, and here they are face to face with those who are responsible getting in their face and standing up to them. When it’s over and patrons are yelling Vive France with tears streaming down their faces, I’m sitting there with the same tears on my face because it’s such a raw, powerful, emotional scene that is very rare to come across in any film. I cannot imagine the power that scene had for audiences living at the height of World War 2. I’m sure there wasn’t a dry eye in any cinema it showed at.
I just love this movie. I really do.
My Rating: 9/10