Casablanca Themes


The theme of sacrifice underlies the depiction of heroism in the film. At the beginning of the film, Rick Blaine asserts, "I stick my neck out for nobody." He is a total isolationist, doing what he has to do to maintain his saloon and lifestyle in Casablanca. However, his love for Ilsa opens his heart and unlocks his heroic nature. He and Ilsa both do what is right for the anti-fascist cause, even if it means they will never be together. The sacrifices that Rick and Ilsa make are in line with what the OWI wanted films to portray during World War II. They felt that Rick and Ilsa's sacrifices would inspire Americans to support the country's entry into World War II. By the end of the film, Rick sticks his neck out and is much more self-satisfied for it.


Rick Blaine's attempts to remain politically neutral become increasingly futile as the film goes on. Before Rick even appears onscreen, Carl informs the patrons of Rick's Café Americain that Rick never drinks with his customers. "Your business is politics, my business is running a bar", he says. He protects his livelihood and his emotional stability by remaining as neutral as possible. When Ilsa walks into Rick's, everything changes. The first night that Ilsa and Laszlo are there, Rick has a drink with them, which begins his topple from neutrality back to anti-fascist rebel. Whether or not the filmmakers intended it, the parallels between Rick's trajectory and the American engagement in World War II do exist. Ilsa and Laszlo's entry into Casablanca brings the conflict to Rick's front doorstep. He has the power to help them, and he does, instead of holding on to his pronounced neutrality. Similarly, Pearl Harbor brought the War onto American soil... "and even the staunchest isolationists were forced to accept America's entry into the conflict" (Warner Bros. 128).


In Casablanca, the theme of loyalty is prevalent in the characters' interpersonal relationships and political identities. For example, Rick and Sam are endlessly loyal to one another. When Signor Ferrari offers Rick a lot of money to "purchase" Sam, Rick refuses. Ferrari makes the same offer to Sam, who also refuses. To them, their relationship and their history is much more important than money. Later, when Rick is selling his bar to Ferrari, he reveals that Sam gets 25% of the saloon profits. This was especially telling of Rick's fondness for Sam, because race relations at the time - which predate the American Civil Rights movement by two decades - were nowhere near as evolved as they are today. "The role of Sam...was one of the handful in the early 1940s in which an African-American was allowed some dignity" (Harmetz 141). Rick, however, does not ever refer to Sam's skin color or station in life. Sam is his friend and business partner and the only man Rick confides in when Ilsa comes back to town. Even though Rick cannot take Sam with him when he goes off to fight the anti-fascist cause (to which he is also loyal), he makes sure that his friend will be well-taken-care-of when the saloon changes hands.


In Casablanca, many of the major and minor characters have a moment when he or she has to do what is right for his or her country. For example, Major Strasser remains completely loyal to the Nazi cause, which forces him to reject any humanitarian instincts he might feel. Meanwhile, Yvonne, who is only happy when she is with a man, realizes how important her French identity is to her when her German date alienates her from her countrymen. Victor Laszlo and Ilsa are so devoted to their cause, so eager to free their people, that they risk their lives on numerous occasions. Even Renault abandons his self-serving obedience to the Vichy government by the end of the film. This theme is also in line with what Roosevelt's government wanted films to show the American people: that sometimes citizens need to make sacrifices for the good of our country.

Past and Present

There is a marked contrast between the world that Michael Curtiz portrays in Rick and Ilsa's Paris flashback and the current-day scenes in Casablanca. When Rick and Ilsa fell in love, they had made a pact to not ask each other about their pasts. This allowed them to be happy, free, and love each other without outside complications. When the Nazis invaded Paris, however, they were both forced to confront things they had been trying to deny. Rick cannot stay in Paris because he is on the Germans' blacklist, and Ilsa cannot leave because Laszlo - and his cause - needs her. They love each other, but love isn't enough, which is also how their relationship plays out in the end. Curtiz was very deliberate about his visual choices, aided by the artistry of cinematographer Arthur Edeson. When Ilsa first comes back to Rick's, Edeson used filters to "caress her face" (Harmetz 134). She appears as a warm memory against the dark shadows of Rick's, where roulette games are staged and illegal passports exchange hands. This foreshadows the ending of the film, where Rick and Ilsa must go their separate ways to fight for the causes they believe in, but they will always carry the soft, happy memories of Paris in their hearts.

"The Greater Good"

The Office of War Information enlisted Hollywood to help rally support from the American people. The agency would ask each studio to consider a list of questions before greenlighting a film, the most important of which was "will this picture help win the war?" The overall message of Casablanca can be summed up by one of Rick Blaine's final lines: "It doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world". Rick acknowledges the fact that right now, the "Greater Good", i.e. the defeat of fascism, is far more important than his and Ilsa's happiness. At a time when the American government was asking its citizens to enlist in the army and give up many of their comforts for the sake of the war effort, Rick and Ilsa's sacrifices would have been inspiring.


In Casablanca, love takes on many different forms, and it is certainly not the stuff of fairy tales. In Paris, Ilsa breaks Rick's heart because she loves him. She has to stay behind with Laszlo and knows that if Rick knew the circumstances, he would also stay in Paris. However, if Rick stays in Paris, the Germans will capture him. Therefore, Ilsa abandons Rick because she loves him, contrary to what he feels while standing at the train station, in the rain, waiting for her. Similarly, Laszlo asks Rick to take Ilsa away from Casablanca. Laszlo knows that he is too high-profile to escape, but he wants his wife to be safe - even if it means sending her away with her former lover. He does this even though it would be painful for him, but he loves Ilsa and wants her to be safe. Finally, Rick knows that he has the chance to be with Ilsa, but he also knows that she will regret it if she abandons Laszlo. Therefore, it is because he loves her that he must send her away.