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?”