Casablanca Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Discuss how the framing and lighting of Rick Blaine reveals something about his character throughout the film.

    At the beginning of the film, Rick moves in and out of hard shadows, often within a frame by himself. At this time, he is concealing his broken heart by acting as a staunch isolationist, both emotionally and politically. During the flashback to Paris, however, Curtiz presents Rick in a much softer light, as if Ilsa's inner beauty has softened him as well. By the end of the film, Ilsa and Rick say goodbye from inside a milky fog, and as soon as she is gone, Rick and Renault walk off into the soft moonlight together. The lighting represents Rick's transition from hardened cynic to self-sacrificing patriot.

  2. 2

    Describe the parallels between Rick Blaine's character and the American position in World War II.

    Before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took a non-interventionist stance on World War II, preferring not to choose sides in order to keep the country out of war. Many were angered by FDR's decision to sit back and allow the spread of fascism in Europe, and it started to become clear that isolationism was no longer a viable option. When the Japanese attacked the naval base at Pearl Harbor, the war was brought to American soil and the country had no choice but to join the Allies. Similarly, Rick Blaine keeps himself isolated in Casablanca, both politically and emotionally. However, Ilsa Lund's arrival in his cafe signals the end of his non-interventionism. Now, the fight has become personal. Rick watches the woman he loves struggle against the Third Reich, and Rick alone has the power to save her. This eventually leads him to re-embrace his anti-fascist leanings and return to the fight.

  3. 3

    How are Rick Blaine and Captain Renault similar? What does the ending indicate about the changes they go through?

    Both Rick Blaine and Captain Renault claim to only act on self-interest. Renault wants to keep his powerful position as Vichy Captain in Casablanca, and Rick wants to keep running a successful saloon. However, the ending shows that their initial selfish motives were forming a self-protective shell around both men. Renault and Rick are forced to take a stand when the battle between right and wrong becomes personal for them. They are finally on the same side at the end of the film, as they leave for the Free French Garrison in Brazzaville.

  4. 4

    Describe the ways in which Rick Blaine reveals his hidden political leanings at the beginning of the film, even though he claims to be neutral.

    Rick claims a neutral position at the beginning of the film, which is communicated both explicitly and subtly. Though he repeatedly says he "sticks out his neck for nobody" and refuses to drink with patrons lest it appears he agrees with their politics, Rick's true stance is evinced through his behavior. Rick deflects any questions of his allegiances with a sardonic line, but he quietly turns away German customers and he admits to being impressed when Ugarte tells him he has murdered two German couriers and stolen their Letters of Transit. Rick also mocks Renault for the way he blindly obeys Major Strasser, even though Renault claims to be in charge in Casablanca. He refers to the "Gestapo Spank," indicating that the Nazis are using their famed torture tactics to keep Renault in line. Finally, Rick does not deny his previous engagement in anti-fascist conflicts, including running guns to Ethiopia and fighting against Franco in Spain.

  5. 5

    Describe the ways in which Michael Curtiz develops the environment of Casablanca as a city.

    During the French occupation of Morocco, Casablanca became a central meeting point for colonial powers, and the film presents a microcosm of the world's political landscape. In the opening scenes of Casablanca, we see a chaotic marketplace raided by the local French police in search of illegal document holders and political dissidents. Within the first 5 minutes of the film, we see a man, who we learn is carrying Free French literature, shot in the back for having expired papers. This creates an environment of danger in Casablanca, showing that it is not at all a safe haven for political refugees. Nobody is trustworthy in Casablanca, as Curtiz shows his audience when a seemingly well-intentioned young man at a cafe turns out to be a notorious pickpocket. Inside Rick's Café Americain, everyone is there for a different reason, but it seems that very few people are there just to drink and enjoy themselves. One woman is trying to sell her diamonds for money, another man is arranging his escape by night, and Dutch bankers try to assert their superiority. There is also a strong underground resistance alive in the city which involves patrons of the bar, prominent member Laszlo and even Carl the Waiter. Casablanca has become a quagmire of competing interests and the characters that thrive - like Rick and Renault - do best to stay above the fray.

  6. 6

    Who are the two major characters that do not change over the course of the film? What is the political significance of these two characters?

    Neither Major Strasser nor Victor Laszlo change over the course of Casablanca. Major Strasser is a two-dimensional villain, representing the Axis powers, and Victor Laszlo is an unquestioning hero, representing the Allied Forces. These two characters form opposing ideological poles that pull the rest of the players in Casablanca between opposite directions. The conflict between these two men is simply the battle of good vs. evil, which is what the OWI wanted films to portray. All of the ambiguous individuals (obviously) side with the "good" side, and band together to extinguish the evil forces. Strasser's death and Laszlo's victory at the end of the film signals the desired outcome of the war and presented a rallying cry for the war effort to its audience.

  7. 7

    What does the flashback to Rick and Ilsa's affair in Paris bring to the film? Why is this a turning point for both characters?

    During the flashback to their love affair in Paris, we understand why Rick is so hardened and cynical. We also know why Ilsa's arrival throws him into emotional turmoil. By going back in time, the characters become richer and more compelling, which, in turn, propels the plot forward. The audience, like Rick, wants to know why Ilsa left Rick in Paris. Ilsa's arrival in Casablanca forces the two former lovers to face their pasts, admit their lingering feelings for one another, and then, presents them with the biggest challenge of all: can they be together or not?

  8. 8

    Paul Henreid originally turned down the role of Victor Laszlo because he thought the film was too much of a fairy tale. Do you agree? Why or why not?

    Clearly, a man who was forced out of his homeland by the Nazis had a less optimistic viewpoint of the Allied Forces' ability to vanquish Hitler. However, the character development of Rick and Ilsa is so well thought-out that the ending has a completely organic feeling to it. Rick and Ilsa themselves address the fairy-tale quality of their time in Paris, one of those rare, unburdened moments that will keep both of them going. Laszlo's character, however, is certainly one-dimensional, and it is possibly not realistic that such a man could be so calm when he knows his life is in danger. There may have been moments where World War II felt unending for many, but it was Hollywood's task to keep national hope alive. Either way, audiences have found something relatable in Casablanca for generations, and it did help to sell war bonds after its release.

  9. 9

    How does the environment at Rick's Café Americain change over the course of the film? What does this say about Rick?

    At the beginning of the film, Rick's Café is filled with crooks, gamblers, women, refugees, soldiers, and every other kind of archetype that existed in Casablanca during that time. Rick is an untouchable overseer, thinking of the saloon as a business and not a place for politics. However, Ilsa's re-entry into Rick's life forces him to let the politics into Rick's. When Rick allows his band to support Laszlo singing "La Marseillaise", thus drowning out the Germans' anthem, Major Strasser shuts Rick's down. Rick's politics have now colored his saloon, supporting his original assertions that his business and politics cannot co-exist. In the third act, when Laszlo and Ilsa come to Rick's to obtain their Letters of Transit, there is a long shot of Rick crossing through the empty, shadowy cafe to open the door. Rick's Café then becomes the site of its proprietor's political rejuvenation, when he turns on Renault and hurries Ilsa and Laszlo to safety.

  10. 10

    Describe the differences and similarities between The Blue Parrot and Rick's Café Americain and analyze what they indicate about the saloons' respective owners, Signor Ferrari and Rick Blaine.

    From the first scene inside Rick's Café, Rick makes the differences between himself and Signor Ferrari clear. Although Rick chooses to stay apolitical, there are certain lines he refuses to cross, no matter what the payoff. Rick allows illegal activity to occur inside his saloon, but only as much as he needs to keep his business profitable. He tends to try and keep it under wraps and turn a blind eye to crooks like Ugarte. Signor Ferrari, however, embraces the profits he gains from being the major force behind Casablanca's black market. Where Rick keeps his Letters of Transit private, Signor Ferrari has open conversations about illegal dealings in his bar all the time. At the beginning, The Blue Parrot is much more dark and shadowy, in contrast to the bright and lively environment at Rick's. Also, Sam tells Ilsa that Rick has a "girl at the Blue Parrot", connecting Ferrari's club with cheap sex and other base forms of entertainment.