Casablanca directed by Michael Curtiz and released in 1942, is often regarded as one of the greatest films in cinematic history. Set against the backdrop of World War II, this classic film is a romantic drama that weaves together themes of love, sacrifice, honor, and the impact of war. The ending of Casablanca is iconic and memorable, and it remains a topic of discussion and analysis in film studies.
The Setting and Background
Casablanca is primarily set in the city of Casablanca, a French-controlled Moroccan city during World War II. It serves as a melting pot of cultures and a haven for refugees fleeing the Nazi regime. The film is known for its rich character development and unforgettable dialogue, with Humphrey Bogart playing the lead role of Rick Blaine, and Ingrid Bergman portraying Ilsa Lund, the love interest. Rick's Café Américain is a central location where much of the story unfolds.
To understand the ending of Casablanca, it's essential to grasp the motivations and complexities of the main characters:
Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart): The enigmatic and cynical owner of Rick's Café Américain. Rick is a former American freedom fighter who has become disillusioned with the world. His character arc centers around his journey from neutrality to taking a stand against the Nazis.
Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman): Ilsa is Rick's former lover, and her reappearance in his life is a significant turning point in the story. She is married to Victor Laszlo and harbors a secret concerning her relationship with Rick.
Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid): A heroic Czech resistance leader and Ilsa's husband. Laszlo is determined to escape Casablanca and continue his fight against the Nazis.
Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains): The corrupt and witty French police captain in Casablanca. Renault's loyalty shifts throughout the film, and he forms a complex alliance with Rick.
Major Heinrich Strasser (Conrad Veidt): The main antagonist, a high-ranking Nazi officer intent on apprehending Laszlo and controlling Casablanca.
Sam (Dooley Wilson): Rick's loyal pianist and friend who performs the iconic song "As Time Goes By" and provides emotional support to Rick.
The Plot Leading to the Ending
Casablanca's plot revolves around the arrival of Ilsa and Laszlo in Casablanca. Rick, who was deeply in love with Ilsa in Paris before she left him without explanation, is heartbroken by her presence. Despite his initial bitterness, he becomes involved in a complicated web of events, with Laszlo and Ilsa seeking safe passage to America.
As the narrative unfolds, it is revealed that Ilsa left Rick in Paris because she believed he was dead, only to discover that he survived. She had married Laszlo in the interim. This revelation adds layers of complexity to their relationship.
The central conflict revolves around a pair of "letters of transit" that would allow the bearers to travel freely and escape the clutches of the Nazis. These letters become a coveted and scarce resource in the story.
Rick's Café becomes the focal point for a series of events that ultimately lead to the film's memorable ending. Rick, at first, refuses to help Laszlo and Ilsa, but as the plot develops, he is drawn into their struggle against the Nazis.
The Climactic Ending
The ending of Casablanca takes place at the airport where Victor Laszlo and Ilsa plan to escape Casablanca and continue their fight against the Nazis. Rick, who has had a change of heart, agrees to assist them.
Here's a breakdown of the ending's key moments and themes:
Rick's Moral Transformation: Throughout the film, Rick is depicted as a cynical and self-serving character. He is initially unwilling to assist Laszlo and Ilsa, especially after discovering that Ilsa is married to Laszlo. However, as the story progresses, Rick undergoes a significant moral transformation. His love for Ilsa, his disillusionment with his own apathy, and his recognition of the larger battle against the Nazis lead him to take a principled stand. This transformation culminates in his decision to help Laszlo and Ilsa escape.
The Duel with Strasser: Major Strasser, the main Nazi antagonist, confronts Rick at the airport. A tense exchange reveals Rick's defiance, as he shoots and kills Strasser. This act is both an assertion of Rick's commitment to helping Laszlo and Ilsa and a symbolic defeat of the Nazi ideology. It's important to note that Captain Renault, who initially appeared to support the Nazis, subtly aligns himself with Rick in this moment.
Renault's Transformation: Captain Renault's character arc is also significant. Throughout the film, Renault is depicted as corrupt and opportunistic, willing to collaborate with the Nazis. However, in the final scenes, he is visibly moved by Rick's principled stand and the defiance against the Nazis. He even declares, "Round up the usual suspects," signaling his intent to turn a blind eye to Rick's actions and cover up the killing of Strasser.
The Emotional Farewell: The heart of the ending lies in the emotional farewell between Rick and Ilsa. As the plane carrying Laszlo and Ilsa prepares for takeoff, it becomes clear that Ilsa must leave with her husband. In a bittersweet and tearful moment, Rick makes the ultimate sacrifice for the woman he loves. He ensures her safety by urging her to stay with Laszlo and escape, even though it means they will be separated. Rick's famous line, "Here's looking at you, kid," is a poignant farewell that encapsulates the depth of his love for Ilsa and the sacrifice he's making for her happiness.
"The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship": The film concludes with Rick and Renault walking away from the airport together. Renault remarks, "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship," indicating his newfound alignment with Rick's values and the transition of their relationship from one of convenience to one of genuine friendship. The film ends on this note of camaraderie and hope.
Themes and Symbolism in the Ending
The ending of Casablanca is rich in themes and symbolism that contribute to its enduring appeal:
Sacrifice: The climax of the film is defined by acts of sacrifice. Rick sacrifices his own love for Ilsa's happiness and safety, while Laszlo and Ilsa sacrifice their immediate reunion for the larger cause of fighting the Nazis. These sacrifices underscore the film's exploration of personal sacrifice in the context of war.
Defiance Against Tyranny: The ending symbolizes defiance against tyranny and the triumph of moral principles over oppression. Rick's decision to assist Laszlo and his confrontation with Major Strasser represent the rejection of Nazi ideology and the assertion of individual and collective resistance.
Ambiguity: The closing scene, with Renault and Rick walking away together, is emblematic of the film's underlying theme of moral ambiguity. Throughout the story, characters must navigate a morally complex world. Renault's transition from corruption to alliance with Rick introduces an element of ambiguity and transformation.
Romantic Love and Idealism: Casablanca is a love story, but it is also a story of idealism and the pursuit of a higher purpose. The film's ending reconciles the romantic and idealistic elements, highlighting the complexity of love and its intersection with larger principles. The film's enduring appeal lies in its ability to touch the human spirit and remind us of the enduring power of principled actions in the face of adversity.