The camera looks into Rick's Café Americain through barred windows. The saloon is empty except for Rick speaking to Carl about the business' financial state during the involuntary shut-down by the Vichy officials. Carl tells Rick he can stay closed for two or three weeks, and Rick insists that all his employees must stay on payroll. Carl tries to tell Rick that he, too, is going to the Underground Resistance meeting, but Rick does not want to know this. Instead, he goes upstairs into his apartment and, out of the shadows, Ilsa emerges. She calls him Richard, which is what she used to call him in Paris, and he guesses correctly that she is there for the Letters of Transit. He is clearly still hurt by her rejection, and Ilsa begs Rick to put his feelings aside for the cause, something more important. Rick selfishly proclaims that the only cause he cares about is his own, unlike Ilsa's heroic husband. She cries bitterly and accuses him of taking revenge on the world for his broken heart, and claims that Victor Laszlo will die if he stays in Casablanca. Rick still does not budge. Finally, he turns and shock creeps over his face - Ilsa is pointing a gun at him, demanding the letters. Rick would rather die than hand them over, because he has nothing to live for. At this point, Ilsa completely falls apart and tells him how devastated she was when she had to let him leave Paris without her. She still loves him. They kiss.
Cut to the spotlight up ahead, pausing briefly on Rick's face as he looks out his window. Ilsa tells him the real story of why she abandoned him in Paris. She was married to Laszlo in secret, because Laszlo wanted to protect Ilsa from the Gestapo. However, Laszlo was captured and taken to a concentration camp and Ilsa heard that he died trying to escape. She was completely broken until she met Rick. In a twist of fate, though, she found out that Laszlo was alive right before she and Rick were supposed to leave Paris together. She knew that if she told Rick about her reasons for staying, he would not leave Paris and the Gestapo would get him. Now, Ilsa and Rick are in the same position once again. Ilsa does not want to leave Rick again, but if she stays in Casablanca, Laszlo will die. She asks Rick to make the decision for both of them. This is exactly what Rick has been trying to avoid, but for Ilsa, he finally opens up. Instead of refusing, Rick holds her tenderly and says, "Here's looking at you, kid."
Rick and Ilsa hear some noises from downstairs. Rick sees Carl and Laszlo down below, in the bar, in a high angle shot over Rick's shoulder. He calls Carl upstairs and asks him to take Ilsa home so that Laszlo won't know she is there. Downstairs, Rick helps an injured Laszlo. Rick asks Laszlo if the fight is worth all this trouble. Laszlo says that if he doesn't stop fighting, the world will die. He knows that Rick feels the same way and is trying to hide it. Laszlo also knows that Rick is in love with Ilsa, but he is not angry. He asks Rick to take the letters of transit and take Ilsa away from Casablanca. Laszlo loves her so much that he is willing to let her go in order to protect her. Rick seems surprised to see how much Laszlo loves his wife AND how committed he is to the fight. At that moment, the police come storming through the doors and arrest Laszlo. Suddenly, everyone's destiny is in Rick's hands.
Cut to Renault's office, where Rick is fighting for Laszlo's freedom. Renault cannot understand why Rick would stick his neck out for Laszlo. It is totally inconsistent with the persona Rick has projected since he arrived in Casablanca. Rick admits to Renault that he has the Letters of Transit, but that he is in love with Ilsa Lund and plans to take her away on the plane to Lisbon that night. He makes a deal with Renault. If Renault lets Laszlo off the hook for the petty charge of attending the Underground Resistance meeting, then Rick will arrange for Laszlo to be caught red-handed trying to purchase the stolen Letters of Transit. Renault agrees to this plan, because that crime will give the Germans reason to send Laszlo to a concentration camp, which in turn will make Renault a hero in their eyes. Meanwhile, Renault has to promise that Rick and Ilsa can escape without hassle. Inside the Blue Parrot, Rick makes arrangements to sell the Rick's Café to Signor Ferrari. He ensures that Sam, Sascha, and the rest of his staff will be appropriately taken care of in his absence. After Rick leaves, the camera stays on Signor Ferrari as he swats an errant fly and raises his eyebrow.
Cut to inside Rick's Café Americain, which looks very different from the beginning of the film. Rick is hidden away behind a heavy wooden screen, examining the Letters of Transit, when there is a knock on the door. There is a long shot that reveals the dark, empty saloon as Rick crosses the screen and opens the door to let Renault in. Renault is hidden away by the time Laszlo and Ilsa enter. Ilsa, meanwhile, is frantic that Laszlo does not know she is leaving with him, but Rick looks deep into her eyes and asks her to trust him, and she does. Rick hands Ilsa and Laszlo the Letters of Transit and Renault immediately comes out to arrest them. At this moment, Ilsa, Laszlo, Renault, and the audience believe that Rick has double-crossed the woman he supposedly loved. But in another surprise twist, Renault turns to see Rick pointing a gun at him. At gunpoint, Rick makes Renault call the airport to alert the authorities that two individuals will be on the plane to Lisbon with valid Letters of Transit. However, the film cuts to the person on the other end of the phone call - Major Strasser. Strasser immediately knows something is wrong and hastily makes his way to the airport.
Cut to the airport, shrouded in fog. The plane to Lisbon is taking off in ten minutes. A car screeches onto the runway, carrying Rick, Ilsa, Laszlo, and Renault. Rick forces Renault to fill out the Letters of Transit with the names Mr. and Mrs. Victor Laszlo. Ilsa is shocked, but Rick has made his decision. He tells her that she belongs with Laszlo because she is part of what helps him keep fighting against the Axis powers. He tells her that he has to go on alone, and if she stays they will both end up in a concentration camp. "We'll always have Paris", he tells her, but right now, there is a cause that is more important than the two of them being in love. Rick also goes so far as to tell Laszlo that he and Ilsa are not in love anymore, but Ilsa claimed to love him the night before just to get him to give up the Letters of Transit. Rick bids goodbye to Ilsa and Laszlo, who welcomes Rick "back to the fight".
Renault calls Rick a sentimentalist as the plane starts up, knowing full well he lied to Laszlo about his and Ilsa's feelings for each other. Renault seems to have every intention of arresting Rick as soon as the plane has taken off. However, as soon as the plane is in the sky, Major Strasser drives onto the runway. Renault tells Major Strasser that Victor Laszlo is on the plane that has just taken off. Strasser runs for the phone and Rick points his gun at him. Strasser pulls out his gun and they both shoot at the same time - but Major Strasser falls to the ground, dead. Moments later, the Municipal Police arrive in a car and Renault informs them that Major Strasser has been shot. Rick's face tenses, as he (and the audience) assumes that Renault is going to turn Rick in to the police. However, Renault instead sends his minions off to "round up the usual suspects." Rick is noticeably surprised by Renault's gesture. Renault calls Rick a patriot, and drops a bottle of Vichy Water into the garbage, signaling his own rejection of the Vichy Regime.
The plane disappears into the starry sky and Renault advises rick to disappear. He tells Rick he can arrange a Letter of Transit for him to go to Brazzaville. Rick reminds Renault that he owes him 10,000 Francs because, as Laszlo successfully escaped, he won their bet. Renault tells him that the money will cover their shared expenses in Brazzaville. Rick utters the famous last line in the film, "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." "The End" appears over the map of Africa, and "Pomp and Circumstance" swells in the background.
In this final section, Rick Blaine comes full circle. At the beginning of the film, he isn't willing to stick his neck out for anyone, but by the end, he has stuck his neck out for a number of people. Ilsa's arrival in Casablanca is the catalyst that peels away Rick's layers of anger and resentment, and exposes the "sentimentalist" and fighter within. He goes from being famously neutral to vehemently taking a side, rediscovering his inner rebel with the help of Ilsa and Victor Laszlo. The arrival of the couple in Casablanca, as well as Rick's accidental possession of the Letters of Transit, make it impossible for Rick to remain apolitical. After finding out that Ilsa never meant to break his heart, Rick comes out from behind his shell of fear and takes a stand, knowing that there are much more important things at stake than his heartbreak. While it is tragic that Rick and Ilsa do not end up together despite the fact that they love each other, Rick makes that sacrifice to "aid and benefit the Allies in defeating the Nazis" (Field 161).
Syd Field points out that the screenplay indicates Rick's transformation from hardened wallflower to hero through his choices. Field writes, "if you look at the template of the classical 'hero' throughout myth and literature, Rick's action elevates him to the stature of a contemporary hero...[he] has overcome [his] doubts and fears, then pushed them aside and acted." He does not make this transition on his own, however. He is driven by his love for Ilsa, his respect for Laszlo, and his hatred for Major Strasser. These characters are crucial to Rick's journey but are also part of what makes him so relatable. Similar to what Laszlo proclaims to Rick, one can be a leader/hero while also being a human being.
Another oft-quoted line from Casablanca is "We'll always have Paris." This phrase has been common in pop culture for the past 60 years, and is number 43 on AFI's 100 Movie Quotes. It has been referenced or alluded to in countless books, film, television, and songs. In its original context, however, Rick associates "Paris" with of his and Ilsa's happy memories. At this moment, both Rick and Ilsa know that they will never see one another again, but their memories immortalize their love. Rick indicates that they had lost Paris, meaning that after Ilsa abandoned him, he doubted the existence of their love. However, once she came to Casablanca, she gave Rick those happy memories back by letting him know that it was circumstance, not lack of emotion, that kept them apart.
Though the makers of the film strove for historical and emotional accuracy, one iconic element of the film has been discredited - the famous fog at Casablanca's airport. It has been scientifically proven that dense fog would not occur in the desert. Assistant director Lee Katz recalls, "we fogged in the set not so much to give it an atmosphere but because we had to conceal the fact that everything was so phony" (Harmetz 237). Whatever the reason, the fog was a happy accident because it gives the scene a softness, recalling the flashback sequence showing Rick and Ilsa in love. The foggy setting recalls a warm memory, making the audience comfortable in the knowledge that Rick's act of heroism will be a fond memory for both Rick and Ilsa one day. It will keep them going as they continue to sacrifice their own happiness for a greater cause.
The idea that Renault and Rick go off together came up late during production. After spending the entire film selfish, corrupt, and drunk with power, it is Rick's act of sacrifice that catalyzes Renault's own political proclamation. However, his turnaround is completely believable, thanks to the skilled character development built by the writers and Claude Rains's nuanced performance. "Renault is Rick's equally ambiguous double, moving from mocking disengagement to commitment a step or two behind him" (Harmetz 353). Renault and Rick do have some level of affection for one another from the beginning of the film. Rick is comfortable with Renault following him up to his apartment and watching him take wads of money out of his safe. Renault also sees through Rick's hardened exterior, proclaiming him a sentimentalist in the very first scene and, by the end, it becomes clear that he was right. Meanwhile, Rick does not look down on Renault for his decadent behavior - in fact, he enables it by letting Renault win at roulette and turning a blind eye when he womanizes. Rick and Renault certainly clash in several occasions, especially during the final act, but they are aligned in the fact that they do what they need to do to survive in Casablanca. Rick knows that he has to allow illegal activity to go on in order to keep his saloon afloat, and Renault knows that he needs to keep Major Strasser happy in order to continue his lifestyle. They understand each other, and it feels fitting that they end up in a "beautiful friendship" at the end of the film.
The ending of Casablanca falls in line with what the OWI wanted American films to project at the time - a message of self-sacrifice and patriotism. In addition, the only character that is portrayed without nuance in the film is Major Strasser (the representative of the Third Reich), thus enforcing Warner Bros.'s anti-German message. The Bureau of Motion Pictures issued a manual during the summer of 1942, while Casablanca was in production, to instruct studios how to determine whether or not their films were supporting the American stance in World War II or not. In fact, the Bureau devised six different themes that they used to classify films that related to the War. Casablanca received a theme assessment of III-B (United Nations--Conquered Nations), with a minor dash of II C 3 (Enemy--Military). The War Information Program was thrilled with Casablanca, praising the way it illustrates "'personal desires must be subordinated to the task of defeating fascism' and 'graphically illustrate[s] the chaos and misery which fascism and the war has brought.'" The report praised the depiction of America as "a haven of the oppressed and the homeless." Meanwhile, the fact that Rick's past of fighting against fascism in Spain and Ethiopia was also positive because it helped audiences to understand the history leading up to the American involvement in the war, long before Pearl Harbor was attacked (Harmetz 289).
There was a great deal of debate about the ending during the production of Casablanca. The film went into production with an unfinished screenplay, and Hal Wallis, Michael Curtiz, and screenwriter Howard Koch had many heated debates over the fictional fate of Rick and Ilsa. Although the play Everybody Comes to Rick's, on which Casablanca was based, ended with the Ilsa character (Lois) going off with Laszlo, there were some discussions about a more traditional romantic ending. However, the Production Code would not have approved of Ilsa ditching her husband for Rick, and so the creative team was tasked with making the ending both triumphant and believable (in the play, Lois wants to stay with Rick but he makes her go with her husband). Ingrid Bergman recalled going to the writers and the director begging to know which man she was going to choose at the end of the film and being told to play it "in between". Curtiz even shot a few different versions of the ending, and had to bring back Conrad Veidt (Strasser) to re-shoot after Wallis was unsatisfied with the outcome. However, the stress was worth it because the carefully calibrated ending is fully satisfying, creating an American hero out of Rick Blaine and therefore, a subdued war cry for the American cause. The good guys win, and the bad guys die, and the audience believes every moment of it.