Casablanca -1942 – dir. Michael Curtiz
Enough of whether Valentine’s Day was invented by greeting card companies, created in St. Valentine’s dark laboratory of evil science, or if “Valentine’s Day should be every day” in a healthy relationship. You love the candy, so what does it matter?
Valentine’s Day should be an excuse (for those of us who need an excuse) to be just a little bit nicer to those for whom we care. It should be a day of reaching out, of reforging connections, and of gratitude to those with whom we share compassion. What a nice day!
So why celebrate it by watching Casablanca – a film, by most definitions, about love lost?
The cynical and world-weary Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) has confined himself to his nightclub in Morocco, there to live out his days surrounded by drink, gambling, and European expatriates. It’s a great place to lose yourself, but he finds what he didn’t even realize he was looking for.
He jokingly comments, “I came to Casablanca for the waters.” But what do waters do? They run away, and so has Rick. His faith in humanity has been damaged nearly beyond repair, and it’s all on account of a broken heart.
But we don’t have long to wait until Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), the very woman who left him waiting at the train station, falls back into his life. “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”
The stakes couldn’t be higher. Ilsa has arrived with Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), her husband and resistance leader against the Nazis. In Rick’s hand are the travel papers that would ensure safe passage for Victor and his wife. On Victor’s arm is the woman who stole Rick’s heart, and Rick isn’t in a forgiving mood this week.
Like a wronged child, Rick refuses to assist his one-time lover and her noble companion. “I stick my neck out for nobody!” Even as Ilsa trains a gun on his heart, he says, “You’d be doing me a favor.” He’s saying, “You’ve already killed what’s inside. Why not finish the job?” But Ilsa can’t do it, and the shred of humanity that Rick still has begins to grow.
As Rick learns more about Victor, both as the leader of a cause and a man who Ilsa admires, he realizes that he has no choice but to violate his rule and choose a side. Victor tells Rick, “If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die.” Rick replies, “Well, what of it? It’ll be out of its misery.” But Laszlo knows Rick better than that. “You know how you sound, Mr. Blaine? Like a man who’s trying to convince himself of something he doesn’t believe in his heart.”
Author and mythologist Joseph Campbell said, “The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.”
“No!” Rick’s been saying all along. “No, Sam. Don’t play that song.” “No, Louis. I don’t want to be involved.” “No, Victor. I don’t want to help the resistance.”
The theme of sacrifice is what makes Casablanca the film that it is. Love is sacrifice. It’s giving yourself up for something far, far greater. Victor Laszlo has sacrificed his safety to fight the machine of the state. Ilsa has sacrificed a life with Rick for the same cause. In the end, it’s Rick who sacrifices both personal security and romantic love for something larger than life, a cause worthy of their combined efforts, and a cause worth dying for.
A grateful Victor says, “Welcome back to the fight. This time I know our side will win.”
Rick loses Ilsa but finds himself. He finds compassion. He does the right thing at the right time, and with tears in our eyes, we’re still cheering him on.
Why? Because that’s what love is, and it’s our cause, too.
This from a man who once said, “I’m the only cause I’m interested in”?
That’s doing the right thing. That’s compassion. That’s true love.
Happy Valentine’s Day!