The Timeless Love Story of 'Casablanca'



Rick and Ilsa's fated relationship continues to be relevant to audiences 80 years later.

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman as Rick and Ilsa in CasablancaImage via Warner Bros.

From black and white to colors on the screen, film has changed its visuals multiple times throughout the years. Yet, there is one thing that remains the same within this art vehicle, which is the power that these stories have to connect with audiences in different walks of life. This statement rings true to the 1942 classic Casablanca, a story about love, political tensions, and selflessness. Directed by Michael Curtiz, this film is set amidst the early stages of World War II in a time when refugees sought to flee from the Germans and move to America. Before they could pack their bags and resort to safety from an imminent battle, these people would stay at Casablanca, Morocco in order to obtain the visas that were necessary for them to travel to their destination. It is in a moment of chaos and uncertainty that two lovers reunite years later and put their love to the test for the greater good. Despite its release dating back to 80 years ago, audiences from various generations can still connect to these characters and their hardships, trying to achieve a happy ending. Even though the grand finale isn't what is traditionally expected within a romantic tale, it is still emotional to see that the greatest trait of true love is not being oblivious to what is happening outside the relationship.

 At first, viewers are introduced to Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) as an exiled American that now owns a café/gaming hub in Casablanca. His "empire" is normally crowded with families waiting to get their golden ticket to America and locals invested in Casino-like matches. Although he has a comfortable life at his reach, Rick is cynical and uninterested in settling down. A few minutes later, it is clear why the protagonist is so cold and incapable of love. The reasoning is tied to the heartbreaking aftermath of his passionate relationship with Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman). Years have passed, and both characters aren't over their undeniable chemistry. When she and her husband Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid), a resistance leader of Czechoslovakia, arrive at Casablanca they are welcomed into the populated café. Little did Ilsa know that her long-lost soulmate owned the place. After the former lovers lock eyes, it is evident that their spark hasn't faded. This is now a problem, because as previously mentioned, she is already married.

 Much like the current obsession with love triangles, these two characters find themselves in a complicated position. Rick continues to hold a grudge against his former love interest, because she left him all alone on a train out of Paris without any explanation. On the other hand, Ilsa feels at a crossroads in which she must decide whether she will stay alongside her husband or leave everything aside to take advantage of this second chance to a happy ending. The more these two try to avoid each other's company, the more they end up in each other's paths. That is when an external factor comes into play. Ilsa's husband is looking for important documents that can help him leave for America before he is captured by German authorities. These same documents are the ones that Rick has in his possession after a client gave them to him to ensure that they wouldn't end up in the wrong hands. This gives the protagonist the opportunity to dictate the future he wants for himself, even if it requires stealing his true love from her husband.

 This is when the concept of love is portrayed in the film in a selfless light, thus contributing to the impact that it has on audiences to this day. When Rick reconnects with Ilsa and finds out why she left him in the first place, he is determined to use the documents to secure his return to America with his soulmate by his side. He crafts the perfect scheme to make this second attempt to escape with her a plan that can't go wrong. Yet, when the time comes for them to embark on a plane to the U.S., Rick changes his mind. He tells Ilsa to go away with Lazlo and to never return to Casablanca. He does this because he prioritized his duty over the consequences that their recklessness would entail. Instead of turning Lazlo in to the Nazis and fleeing with Ilsa, Rick opts to help them leave the country as he remains in Casablanca.

One of the last lines that the protagonist utters to his significant other is: "I'm not good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world." This line is significant because it reinforces the film's message of morals and duty to one's community, over an individual's happiness. Although the film is set in World War II, a conflict that many people nowadays didn't live through, it is still possible to connect this message to our reality. When looking at the situation in Ukraine or even the issues that arose all over the world because of the pandemic, the importance of caring for the greater good over one's own interests is evident. The ending scene with Lazlo and Ilsa leaving Casablanca while Rick and Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) cover up their trace is the true embodiment of selflessness for a greater purpose.

Overall, Casablanca continues to be a timeless Hollywood production because its message of peace and duty is universal. Through a perfectly crafted score to accompany the various phases of love and political tensions of that period to the well-developed script that contribute to each character's complexity, there is much to admire about this classic as a whole. Yet, its overlying message portrayed through Rick and Ilsa's love story makes this narrative attainable to any given moment. People continue to experience love and face hard decisions when it comes to their relationship's future, so using this ever-present element of human existence to symbolize the importance of the greater good is what makes this film worthy of its notoriety.