We decided to take a short break from Oscar movies to watch Casablanca, mostly because it was playing at the Alamo Drafthouse and Chris had never seen it before. After watching a bunch of movies that people say are good but I don’t think actually are good, it was sort of relaxing to watch a movie that is good, for sure.
I don’t know how old I was when I saw Casablanca, but considering I went through a pretty solid Audrey Hepburn/Grace Kelly/Ingrid Bergman/Lauren Bacall period around 6th and 7th grade, I was probably around 12 or so. When I saw it for the first time, I couldn’t stop obsessing over the year it came out. The story of Casablanca wouldn’t exist without World War II, and I so specifcally remember knowing that, “Okay, so Pearl Harbor happened in December 1941, and Casablanca came out in November 1942.” The fact that this old movie about World War II came out less than a year after Pearl Harbor . . . that blew my mind so much. And knowing that made me watch it with way more gravity, I think, because it stopped being this old movie about World War II and became a current-World War II movie that I was just watching 60 years later, if that makes sense. But I think the relevance of the war makes Casablanca that much more interesting. The term “concentration camp,” is thrown around in a way that I think could only have been done in 1942. I don’t mean that it was used incorrectly or offensively, but it was more like people saying stuff like “He was in a concentration camp,” in the middle of a conversation and no one really batting an eye, and no real emphasis put on the phrase. It just gave you a sense of how urgent this movie was; people potentially watching this movie when it first came out didn’t have to think about great-great grandparents going to a concentration camp, they had to think about themselves going to a concentration camp. That just is unreal to me.
But anyway, maybe it’s all my preoccupation with the World War II elements that makes me think that Casablanca is actually not the most romantic movie of all time, or the greatest love story of all time, or anything like that. The love story is great: it’s tragic (but not too tragic – not Romeo and Juliet tragic), beautiful, and genuine. But I almost think Casablanca is more of a story of loneliness and loss than a straight up love story. Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) falls in love with Rick (Humphrey Bogart) in Paris only after she learns her husband Victor (Paul Henreid) was shot trying to escape a concentration camp. She describes being lonely and how Rick essentially saved her from that. But when she learns that Victor is not dead and that he’s in hiding, she seemingly has no choice but to leave Rick, with no warning or explanation, to be with Victor. Then Rick describes the loneliness he’s dealt with since being in Casablanca and how painful it is to think of any of their time together in Paris. Rick won’t even allow his club’s piano player to play “their” song, and anyone who destroyed/deleted music that reminded them of a recent breakup can relate to that. But seeing Ilsa again, along with her telling Rick that she still loved him and explaining why she left, gives Rick a newfound energy and hopefullness. Although Rick is initially horrified that Ilsa showed up at his club (“Of all the gin joints . . .”), he tells her that because she came back, he is able to be content with their memories of Paris together and she doesn’t have to stay with him. The love stories in Casablanca are so complicated (though not hard to follow or anything) that it feels less like a classic love story to me and more of just a really complex study of relationships. But that sounds pretentious.
Casablanca is just one of those movies that turns out to be a classic for a reason. Even though it’s over 70 years old, the characters still feel relevant, and it’s just really beautiful.
It’s kind of embarrassing that it took me this long to see Casablanca, but it’s a huge relief to finally check it off my list. And I was actually kind of surprised at how great it really is. I assumed it was probably going to be pretty straightforward, full of quotable lines, leading to a predictable ending. Although the ending might have been ruined by the multiple parodies I’ve seen through my life, the story was very compelling and exciting. When it first started I was almost unsure if I was going to even be able to follow it.
Of course the whole cast was great but my favorite was actually the French police captain who was kind of friends with Rick (Humphrey Bogart). He had a good combination of serious and humorous moments. And everything with the Nazis and concentration camps was very interesting. I really had no idea that was as much part of the story as it was.
I will recommend this to everyone moving forward…however, I kind of feel like I’m the last person to see it.