The ending of Michael Curtiz’s renowned film “Casablanca” is widely recognized and quoted, but not everyone grasps the multiple themes and profound significance it holds. This 1942 classic, though seemingly straightforward, is rich with analogies and conveys a powerful message about standing up for what is right. By delving into the final moments of “Casablanca,” we can fully appreciate how this propaganda masterpiece by Curtiz became a timeless icon in the history of cinema.
The Story of “Casablanca”
Set in colonial Morocco during World War II, “Casablanca” draws inspiration from the struggles of European refugees who sought safety in the African capital, escaping the horrors of Nazi Germany. The film takes place in 1942, as France faces occupation, with only its Southern portion retaining sovereignty as Vichy France. Despite collaborating with Hitler, Vichy France maintains its status as an independent country and holds control over France’s overseas territories, including Morocco. As a result, Casablanca becomes a refuge for those persecuted by the Nazis, such as Jews and political adversaries, who aim to reach free European ports en route to a fresh start in the Americas.
At Rick’s Café Américaine
While awaiting the necessary paperwork, the refugees depicted in the movie spend their days drinking and gambling at Rick’s Café Américaine. Owned by an American expatriate named Rick Blaine, the café serves as a popular gathering place for foreigners from various nations. Rick, reserved and cynical, treats all his customers with distant courtesy, refraining from asking questions. The café becomes a hub for forgers and refugees to negotiate fake letters of transit, allowing them quicker access to the port of Lisbon. However, Vichy representatives and Nazi officers are also welcome at the café, presenting a dangerous dynamic.
Rick hasn’t always been indifferent to the company he keeps. Previously, he fought against fascism in Ethiopia and Spain, but repeated defeats have left him disillusioned. However, his past catches up with him when a familiar pair of customers enters his café – famed resistance leader Victor Laszlo and his wife, Ilsa Lund. Ilsa’s presence reignites Rick’s feelings of jealousy and resentment. Unbeknownst to Laszlo, Ilsa believed him to be dead during her affair with Rick in Paris. When she discovered Laszlo’s survival and his need for her assistance, she had to leave Rick behind. Despite Ilsa’s attempts to explain what transpired in Paris, Rick refuses to listen, denying her the letters of transit reserved for her and Laszlo.
Rick’s Decision to Part Ways
Rick’s indifference to Ilsa’s situation is evident. He not only withholds the letters of transit but also exposes Laszlo to the threat of German Major Heinrich Strasser and French Captain Louis Renault. Realizing that his jealousy endangers Laszlo’s safety, Ilsa is forced to abandon Rick once again. She confesses her enduring love for him but decides to stay in Casablanca while Laszlo flies to Lisbon. Rick, moved by Ilsa’s words, devises a plan to ensure Laszlo’s escape by deceiving Renault and providing the letters of transit to Ilsa. He prioritizes Laszlo’s safety over his own desires, sacrificing his chance to regain the life he lost in Paris. Rick’s ending in “Casablanca” exemplifies selflessness and the importance of serving the greater good.
Rick and Louis’ Friendship
Surprisingly, Rick forms an unexpected friendship with Louis Renault, a Nazi sympathizer eager to impress his German counterpart. As Laszlo and Ilsa board the plane, Louis contacts Strasser to inform him of the escape. However, when Strasser arrives at the airport, he is unable to stop them. Rick, demonstrating his readiness to risk everything for the cause, shoots and kills Strasser. Anticipating his own arrest or demise, Rick sells his bar and ensures employment for his staff with a rival business. Yet, to his astonishment, Louis chooses not to arrest him. Instead, Louis joins Rick, and the two leave the airport as friends.
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The Symbolism of the Vichy Water Bottle
The friendship between Rick and Louis symbolizes the alliance between the Americans and the French during that time. While the United States had recently entered the war, France was on the verge of losing its autonomy. The film represents the downfall of Vichy collaborationism through a significant shot: a bottle of Vichy Water being discarded. After Rick shoots Strasser, Louis pours water from a Vichy-labeled bottle, contemplates it, throws it in the trash, and kicks it away. This act signifies Louis’ rejection of Vichy’s lies and control. By discarding the bottle, he renounces his collaborationism and embraces the fight against the Nazis, aligning himself with Rick and the cause of freedom.
The ending of “Casablanca” offers a profound exploration of themes and messages. It exemplifies self-sacrifice, as Rick chooses to prioritize the safety of others over his own desires. The newfound friendship between Rick and Louis highlights the transformative power of shared values and united resistance. Moreover, the symbolism of the discarded Vichy Water bottle represents the rejection of collaborationism and the French people’s readiness to fight against Nazi occupation. By analyzing the deeper meanings of the film’s ending, we can better appreciate why “Casablanca” continues to captivate audiences and remains a significant part of cinematic history.