Call me Old Fashioned. Call me Old School. I believe in justice. I believe in poetic justice, especially. There is such a thing as right and wrong. Though stories offer audiences a way to wander through the many shades of gray without committing the actual sins and crimes, in the end, the most satisfying conclusions fall into black and white.
I use as my model the classic film, Casablanca. What movie is more quoted, misquoted, adored, studied and misunderstood? Every single character in the film serves a purpose, no matter how insignificant they might initially seem. Their backgrounds, however mysterious, shape their steps throughout the plot, and lead to the right ending.
Humphrey Bogart’s Rick has a past that requires the watcher to question his motives and decisions. Bogey so artfully portrays this American ex-pat in unoccupied Morocco that you fall in love with him, sympathize with his broken heart, and rally for his personal renaissance within a backdrop of love and war. Even when he seems most cold and selfish, you sense his deep-rooted morality.
Ingrid Bergman plays Ilsa, a beauty riding an ocean of love and idealism and propriety and loyalty. Her fearful eyes betray that her heart can’t choose between her heroic husband, Victor, played by Paul Henried, and Rick, the man she once loved.
The cast includes Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Madeleine Lebeau, Leonid Kinskey, S.Z. Sakall and Dooley Wilson as the typical cast of rivals, patrons, and refugees. Their characters are perfect.
Conrad Veidt is the evil Major Strasser, the commander of the Nazi menace in Casablanca. Nobody questions his motives. He wants power.
Claude Rains steals scenes throughout the film as police captain Louis Renault. He’s another multi-dimensional character who must finally settle on one side of the line or the other.
Now I refuse to spoil the ending of this film, because it is one masterpiece essential to every cinema student. What I will say is that your opinion about whether director Michael Curtiz gave this movie a “happy ending” or not depends wholly on your sense of right and wrong and poetic justice. It requires the audience to delve deeper into the hearts of the players than what you see on the surface.
To say that it didn’t end right, blatantly disregards the actors’ talents and interpretations. It ignores the overarching message of personal sacrifice for the greater good.
Many plots today glorify the concept of sacrificing any noble idea for personal fulfillment, however temporary it might be. Characters break oaths, abandon children and commit felonies in order to be with the loves of their lives— where they live happily ever after. In the sequel, however, their “soul mate” has run off with the secretary or pool boy or whatever because contract negotiations fell through.
Casablanca doesn’t suffer from that selfishness. It is just. It dabbles in grays and leaves you in a rolling fog, wondering what the future holds for Rick, Ilsa, Victor and Louis. You know in your heart that they all did the right thing. I believe Michael Curtiz gave Casablanca the right ending.
That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema! Thanks for reading!