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Oscars Challenge #66: Casablanca (1942) Movie Review

"What is the greatest movie of all time?"

If you love movies like myself, maybe you have asked the same question to yourself. You may prefer slasher films or psychological horror thrillers if you like horror. If you are into action movies, you may have picked something from the MCU.

In the genre of romance, Casablanca stood the test of time. It might have been one of the best movies of all time because, to me, the strength of this film is not because of the tangled love story of the two lead characters but because it plays a symbol of World War II as well.

Casablanca is set in the same place in Morocco during the middle of World War 2. It is a place where refugees from all over the world gather with hopes of escaping the worldwide tension brought by the war. Rick Blaine owns a gambling den and nightclub that attracts clients around Casablanca, including Nazi Germans, Vichy French, and other refugees going to the United States. He does not care about the tension and stays safe on the neutral side of things, but he shows disgust against fascism, especially against the peaceful refugees.

One day, Rick's former lover, Ilsa Lund, entered his establishment and told the pianist to play a memorable song to both of them, As Time Goes By. Upon hearing this, Rick madly told the pianist never to play the music again and was surprised when he saw Ilsa. She is now accompanied by her husband, Victor Lazlo, a fugitive trying to escape to America.

Unknown to them, Rick has the necessary documents or letters for both Ilsa and Victor to go to the United States. It's a race against time because the Germans have been ordered to arrest Victor in case he is spotted, and Rick must make a monumental decision if he chooses his love for Ilsa or the betterment of the world by letting Victor escape.

To better understand the film Casablanca, we need to break it down into several parts, the characters, story, and symbolism.

The Characters

  • Rick Blaine - played by Humphrey Bogart. At first, Rick is like a shadow that goes along with almost everyone. He makes decisions if he feels like it, but deep inside, he always chooses the right one to benefit everyone. We don't know his purpose at first, but during his flashback sequence with Ilsa, we learn how they met and broke apart. Unlike most male lead characters in romantic films, he does not play the hero ball. He chooses what he thinks is the right one for the world.

  • Isla Lund - played by the beautiful Ingrid Bergman. Her character is the most difficult to decipher. Her relationship with Victor seemed to be unordinary. When she meets Rick at Casablanca, she begins to have doubts about Victor's purpose against her feelings for him. Sometimes, her character speaks through emotions, which shows the talent and skill of Ingrid Bergman's acting.

  • Victor Lazlo - played by Paul Henreid. There is not much to say about his character except that he fights the wrongdoings of the tyrannical rule of Nazi Germany. He sides with what he thinks is suitable for the people. He is a seemingly righteous revolutionist fighting for a just cause.

The Story Symbolism

Casablanca may be viewed from different perspectives depending on how you want to interpret the film. As a casual viewer, it may seem like a typical romantic love story between two people tested by several events. Then they meet again and try reconciling their relationship and lost time. But if you look closely, there are certain things that you may have missed out on while watching the movie.

Casablanca first premiered on November 1942 when World War 2 was still ravaging, and less than a year since the United States decided to join the war after the horrific Pearl Harbor attack. The movie became a microcosm of how America finally decided to join the fight against the Axis powers. As depicted in the film, Casablanca is where almost every refugee tries to escape the horrors of war. People of different nationalities gather to try to escape the ongoing tension. Some of them are successful, while others don't. It's pretty much the state of our world during those horrific times.

Victor Lazlo symbolizes the tool for freedom the people longed for—a person who can fight against tyranny and oppression. He is like the beacon of hope for everyone. Rick may represent the state of the United States before the Pearl Harbor attack. He is stuck between choosing his personal interest and being happy with the woman he loves or being a catalyst and saving Victor and Ilsa to prevent the war from spreading. When the time is right, Rick finally makes a decision that may not point him to the happiest path but surely the righteous one.

Another symbolism in the film is the use of lighting against the characters. During the first sequences of the film, Rick is permanently darkened by the shadows, making you think he is experiencing the darkest moments of his life. Meanwhile, Ilsa is beautifully brightened, making you think she is the light needed for Rick to be happy again. But when they both meet, the lighting becomes contrasted. It feels like they are both behind prison bars. It represents the state of the world that we're in during those times.

Casablanca is a monument of terrific filmmaking. A movie that felt more like a beacon than a typical romantic drama. It's so layered that even I cannot fully grasp what the film represents. It stood against the test of time, and even film theorists had their share of explanations for the symbols presented in the movie. And it's all squished into a 102-minute spectacle that nobody can match.

There will never be a film like Casablanca because it represents so much more than its story.

A perfect 5 out of 5 stars.

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