Nobody needs to read a review about Casablanca. It's the most famous and most critically lauded movie of all time. That being said, I re-watched it recently and couldn't help but use my blog to get some stuff out there about a masterpiece of film.
What intrigued me most about this 1942 classic wasn't the brilliant set design, believable acting, or the perilous and utterly believable backdrop of an expanding Nazi empire, but it was the plight of Ilsa Lund. Wonderfully played by Ingrid Bergman, Ilsa is the epitome of what the audience of the time could identify with and lust after. She was the beautiful young woman who you always wished you would stumble upon in some subway station who you miraculously connect with. Beyond that, she's open to experiencing life without any hang ups about her past. Indeed, she prefers to ignore it entirely.
Ilsa and Rick Blaine's (Humphrey Bogart) torrid love affair in Paris is cut short by the Nazi occupation, and the two are separated for years until they're reunited in Casablanca, Morocco. Rick desperately woos Ilsa and begs her to leave her husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), throughout the entire film. Just at the end of the movie, when she finally agrees, Rick has a change of heart and all but commands her to leave with her husband literally for the good of all mankind.
I couldn't help but wonder at how love is portrayed in Hollywood and how that portrayal has changed since 1942. In particular, I kept coming back to what is possibly the seminal love story of this generation, the Notebook. It's fascinating to see contrast between the choices that Ilsa Lund and Allie Calhoun (Rachel Adams), the main character of the notebook. In the latter film, the whole crux of the movie is centered around Allie's feelings, which are clearly delineated as the most important motivation for her actions. By contrast, Ilsa is ultimately tied to the fate of her anti-fascist husband, and knows that if she leaves her husband for her own selfish wants she will crush him inside and doom the cause he advocates and the millions who depend utterly on the fulfillment of that cause.
The stakes of the two films couldn't be more different, but they're both portrayed as equally important. In the notebook Allie's life is what hangs in the balance. In Casablanca, it's the fate of the free world that love will ultimately decide. The contrast between these two themes couldn't be more apparent, and it speaks volumes about what we crave as a people and how that's changed from the time since World War II.
There isn't one view that's clearly better than the other. The argument over whether the personal or the universal is more important will rage on throughout the ages and good films will always be the markers on the landscape of that debate.
There's no reason to not see Casablanca. It's not guaranteed that you'll enjoy it as much as you'd like, but there's no doubt you'll get something from it. More often than not, it will be something important.
5/5 Play it, Sam. Play "As Time Goes By".