Celebrating its 80th anniversary this month, the classic 1942 film-noir Casablanca is renowned for its acting, visual beauty and enthralling romance, but its message has greater value.
Film critic Roger Ebert said, “The great break between 'Casablanca' and almost all Hollywood love stories — even wartime romances — is that it does not believe love can, or should, conquer all."
The film’s themes go beyond romance, highlighting the importance of sacrificial love.
One place that this can be seen in Casablanca in the character arc of the apparently cynical Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), an American expatriate running a bar in the Moroccan city of Casablanca during World War II.
Rick and Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) are two former lovers who met in Paris while Ilsa’s husband Victor was presumed dead.
They are thrown back together in Casablanca. As Ilsa and her — as it turns out, alive — husband (Paul Heinreid) attempt to flee to America, Rick and Ilsa are given an opportunity to reignite their affair.
In the end, however, Rick chooses the right thing, refusing to let Ilsa leave her husband. By telling her that they will both regret not making the right choice, he demonstrates a greater love for her than romantic passion. He chooses good for her, and the moral good in their relationship.
As he walks away from the departing plane, Rick is smiling, even walking lighter. He seems to have shed his burden of heartbreak. The truth has set him free.
Catholic parents teach their children (hopefully!) from a young age that to love is to will the good of another. The crucifix shows us the Catholic view of love: Myself, given for you. That’s what we seek to emulate, and what we seek to teach.
Despite that, most media depictions make us desire romance — which, while hopefully aligned with true love, often requires morally gray or even immoral actions for fulfillment.
But Rick chooses the right thing.
Rick’s sacrifice is in accordance with the truth. He truly understands and acts according to what love is: wanting good for the beloved. His sacrifice is also patriotic, not simply for his country or the anti-Nazi resistance, but patriotic in the truth that what benefits one country will benefit the common good of the world as a whole.
Likewise, this movie demonstrates that choosing morality in our individual lives can have a much larger impact than we think.
Catholicism teaches that since we are all connected in Christ, the sin of one person, one part of the Mystical Body, can affect everyone else. Similarly, Victor and Ilsa’s marriage and joint activism have a significant effect on the anti-Nazi resistance, and thus, their personal choices could affect the world’s freedom.
Casablanca is essentially a story about the choice to put a higher cause over one’s personal desires, exemplified in Rick. He is not willing to choose evil for himself and the woman he loves, and that is a greater love, a more sacrificial love, than the romance that saturates most of Hollywood.
The greatness of Casablanca is that it does not give us what our hearts desire, but rather, what our souls demand.
Here's a peek at a remastered version of the film released for its 75th anniversary:
Sophia Treece is a Los Angeles native working in the pro-life movement. She loves Eucharistic Adoration, making music, and hitting the beaches in her spare time.