Thursday, February 5, 2009

Casablanca’s leading man, Rick, is first presented to the viewer as a tough, sarcastic, and cynical guy. He won’t drink with his customers and he never “sticks” his neck out for anyone. However, as the movie progresses, you begin to see several other sides of Rick and the reasons behind his original front. After being heartbroken when Ilsa does not leave Paris with him, Rick created an appearance of a hard shell around himself; he allowed no one in, and never moved beyond its perimeters himself. And yet, as the movie progresses, we as viewers were able to see that Rick’s shell was not as impenetrable as originally thought.

We are enlightened (somewhat) when we see his displays of kindness towards his employees, when Rick extends a helping hand to a young woman in a tough predicament by allowing her husband to win at roulette, and the way he reacts when Ilsa comes to Casablanca with her husband. He is not without a heart after all—but can almost be described as soft-hearted.
Last night, during class, it was mentioned that Rick might symbolize the United States. He tries to stay neutral, has a tough exterior, and is very nonchalant about everything. These are all qualities of the United States that frustrated and angered many people during the time in which this film was set. So if there truly is this symbolism imbedded within Rick, then what of his soft heart beneath the exterior? Can we also read symbolism into that? Did the producers intend for all of Rick’s actions and attitudes to reflect those of the United States, or just a certain few?
This may be a “rose-colored glass” view, but maybe Rick was intended to symbolize all of the United States: good, bad, or otherwise. Perhaps he was an example of our good and bad qualities. Or maybe he wasn’t. Maybe Rick was just Rick. I can see the Hollywood directors now, “Let’s make him do this, so they will think this. And then we will change it up right here just for fun.” I have always wondered if they (film directors and producers) enjoy using their assumed symbolism for a good laugh or if they truly always hide something meaningful behind a character’s actions. I would like to think that the symbolism I am able to see is genuine, but the conspiracy theorist in me always poses the question: “Is this really meaningful, or is it an attempt to mess with my head?”


  1. Meaning doesn't have to be explicitly introduced into a story for us to find it. So even if the filmmakers have no idea that they are telling anything meaningful, it can still be so.

  2. You've hit on one of the ironies of interpreting any type of art. One way of looking at it is like this: Let's say you're an artist and you develop a new art style. You don't really see it as a new art style, but as an expansion on old, time-tested principals. Yet when future generations look at your artwork, they see the beginnings of a Renaissance on which all things afterward come from.

    Is the artistic revolution any less viable because you didn't realize you were doing anything differently besides using a different type of paint, perspective, brush, etc? No, because what has come after you has already legitimized itself on the basis that it came from you and no one else.

    The same way with film - there's no doubt that some of the things we read in to Casablanca were indeed read into it, transposed on top so we could see nothing else. Yet it doesn't make it any less viable, especially when people build on their interpretations of the work. If the idea becomes concrete enough, it's going to stick - regardless if we take something that wasn't meant at all.