Thursday, February 5, 2009

Here's looking at you, Rick

I’ve always heard what a legendary and wonderful movie Casablanca was, so when I saw it for the first time, my expectations of it were rather high. And I must say that I was not disappointed. The storyline was intriguing, but the characters struck me more than anything. They all had so many layers to their pasts and personalities that it kept me always wondering what they would do next. Of course the most fascinating of these characters is the lead man, Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine.

At first glance Rick seems like a rock— he’s hardened towards almost everyone and everything. The only functional relationships in his life are with his employees such as Sam. So in the first portion of the movie I was thinking that he was just that kind of man by nature, the typical stoic male character who won’t even act human enough to have a drink with his customers. In this part of the movie the audience begins to see the parallels the writers were making between Rick and America. During the beginning of WWII the US was practicing isolationism. The US was there for support is someone really needed us, but as a general rule we weren’t getting involved with anyone or anything. It was perhaps because we were able to stand on our own so well that the rest of the world saw the US as a symbol of hope. People were flocking to us for a new home, safe from the German’s reach, and Rick was the exact same way. He was isolating himself from the world outside of his saloon, but at the same time his saloon brought hope and happiness to those trying to escape the war and the bleakness of Casablanca. It doesn’t take long for Rick’s whole world to be shaken though, and that’s when his character became the most interesting to me.

When Ilsa Lund arrives in Casablanca, Rick’s whole world changes. It was exciting to watch the transformations he underwent as his whole shadowy past came rolling back in to catch him off guard. Suddenly this tough guy had emotions, and we knew he really did care about the world. He began acting more human and actually having contact with the world around him because Ilso stirred up the emotions he had been hiding inside for so long. I think Rick would have ended up a lot like Victor Laszlo if Isla hadn’t broken his heart and made him untrusting of the world. In his earlier life he apparently was quite the risk-taker, sticking his neck out for everyone he thought needed his help. And had things worked out differently with Ilsa in Paris, Rick might have become the world renowned hero that Victor was when he came to Casablanca. Instead, Ilsa returned to her husband and left Rick to wallow in his own misery. He took Sam and left for Africa, never to return to the outside world or even care about it again. It seemed like such a waste for someone with such potential and passion to end up running a saloon and letting officers cheat at roulette every night. And it wasn’t until Ilsa returned that the audience saw any glimmer of that other person Rick had been. She brought back his haunting past and made him face the world again. And while Ilsa still loved him dearly and was leaving to her husband to be with him forever, Rick had returned to old self somehow and knew he couldn’t let her do that.

There a million and one possible explanations for why Rick made the love of his life walk away at the end of the movie, but I prefer to think that it was because he had gotten his spark back. He knew they both had other callings and so they would have to be content with their memories of Paris. Glimpses of that attitude had been peaking out throughout the latter part of the movie— letting the young couple win at roulette to buy their way to America, raising Sam’s wages when he was planning to leave, paying his staff even when the saloon was closed down, etc. All of those small deeds lead me to believe that Rick’s passion for helping the underdogs in need had returned, and that belief was confirmed at the end of the movie when Rick told Captain Renault that “this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” Rick was back in action and ready to take on the world again.


  1. I think the argument that Rick represents America is a strong one, but I wonder how far the metaphor will stretch. I think that some things become possible if you interpret the ending as Rick's reinvigoration or rediscovery of his old self. If Rick is America, and the interpretation you gave is viable, do you think the message of the movie was that American had to get involved with the war? And if so, was the director saying that America's true nature was to fight? As it is, Rick's job will never be done - there will always be an underdog at risk of complete oppression.

    Was the movie a permanent call to action and an end to isolationism?

  2. I think the movie was a sort of call to action for America. We had the means and power to step in and help our allies, but we weren't doing it. It's not necessarily in our nature to fight most of time because we're more of a peace keeping nation (that was even a main claim in the current wars even though it looked like we were just being a bully). However, when the world around us is in shambles as it was in WWII and we have a means of helping, it is our duty to do so, and I think that may have been a part of the movie's message.

  3. Hmmmm. I never thought about how Rick could have been a much more Victor Lazlo-like guy if Ilsa hadn't run out on him. You kind of just blew my mind there, Hayley. That perspective adds a whole new depth to the movie. So do you think that Rick's potential to be another Victor reflects on the parallel between Rick and America, or would you say it's not really part of the metaphor?

  4. Nifty analysis, as Julie noted. Well done!