Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Casablanca (1942)


     Once upon a time, I was a freshman in high school, and I had this crush on this one girl for a very long time. One day, I found out that she had started dating another guy. As you can imagine, I was heartbroken. Within the following months, however, I came to rededicate my life to Jesus at a youth conference, which was the turning point for me in my spiritual pain and in the pain that I had been going through. But during those few months is when I saw “Casablanca” for the first time. And even though it doesn’t have the same healing power that Jesus had, it did serve as a reminder for me that sometimes, the best love stories aren’t always the ones when the guy gets the girl.

     If you’ve never heard of Humphrey Bogart, look him up now. He was sort of like the Brad Pitt of the 1930-40’s Golden Age of Hollywood… except Bogart was a way better actor, no offense. Bogart plays Rick Blaine, an American bartender in Casablanca, a city in unoccupied French Morocco during World War Two. Blaine has a history of patriotism, and when the Germans invaded France (where he was living at the time), he had to escape. But when he did, he was never the same. Now, he is a pessimistic, cynical bartender who sticks his neck out for nobody. Literally, he says that. “I stick my neck out for nobody.” Why? No one knows. Rick keeps to himself maybe a little too much.

     But one night, as a friend leaves him letters of transit that have already been signed by officials and can take him out of Casablanca whenever he pleases, in walk Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) and his wife Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman). Victor is a leader for Free France, who has been chased after by the Nazis and even put in concentration camps for his anti-Nazi propaganda. Rick has been warned that he is coming to Casablanca by a local officer, Captain Renault (Claude Reins), and that Rick should do nothing to help Laszlo escape. Ilsa, on the other hand, already knows Rick: while Laszlo was in the concentration camp, Ilsa, after finding out Victor was dead, brought her grief with her to Paris… and then, one day, she met Rick. The two fell in love and planned to leave Paris together, until one day, Ilsa gets word that Victor is alive but not well, and she must go back to him. So she regretfully leaves Rick, who is heartbroken as he takes a train out of Paris alone in the rain, crumbling up a note from Ilsa that vaguely tells him that she can never see him again.

     By the way, I should probably mention this now. “Casablanca” has the greatest script ever written in history. And I mean that. So you really should watch this film.

     Anyway, it takes a while for Ilsa to convince Rick of why she left him, and now that Rick has the letters of transit, he can give them to Victor and Ilsa and send them off to America safely, without the Nazis chasing after them any longer. And it’s too complicated of a plot to explain here, but Rick finally agrees. He takes his letters of transit, signs them “Mr. and Mrs. Victor Laszlo”, and sends them on their way. But Ilsa is confused: why would Rick do this? If he really loves her, wouldn’t he just leave with her? But Rick explains to her his reasoning:

RICK: Inside of us, we both know you belong with Victor. You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. And if that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it—maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.

ILSA: But what about us?

RICK: We’ll always have Paris.

ILSA: And I said I would never leave you!

RICK: And you never will. But I’ve got a job to do, too. Where I’m going, you can’t follow; what I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but 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.

     And as he tells her the classic line, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” Victor and Ilsa get on the plane to America, as Ilsa tells Rick, “God bless you.”

     “Casablanca” holds the concept of sacrifice that Jesus is constantly pushing us towards, and it’s a concept that I’ve already covered in some of the other articles I’ve written. One of the greatest examples of this is Matthew 12, where Jesus is sending out his twelve disciples to go into the surrounding cities and preach the Gospel to other Jews. He tells them that accepting Jesus as the Savior of the world does not just mean you pray one little prayer and everything will be fine. “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth,” he says in verse 34. “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” He goes on to tell them, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (37-39)

     Rick Blaine understands that his love for Ilsa may be beneficial for him, but the rest of the world needs Victor Laszlo in America. So he puts aside his old life, his old longing for Ilsa, and he finds a new life as he helps Victor and Ilsa leave Casablanca. My prayer for you, the reader, is that if you are struggling with sacrificing a desire, a hope for the future, a relationship, or anything currently in your life, that you would find strength through Jesus Christ to lay it down before Him.

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