SUBJECTS — U.S./1941 – 1945; World/WWII; France & Morocco; ELA: Extended Metaphor; Allegory; Hero’s Journey;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Romantic Relationships; Redemption;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Responsibility; Caring; Citizenship.
AGE; Age: 12+; No MPAA Rating;
Drama; 1942; 102 minutes; B & W. Available from Amazon.com.
It’s 1941, and the German military machine has defeated France and most of Europe. Victor Laszlo, the leader of the Czech resistance, has escaped from a German concentration camp. With Ilsa, his beautiful young wife, he flees to Casablanca, the capital of Morocco. From there he intends to travel to Lisbon and then to America where he will continue working to defeat fascism. Laszlo’s prospects for leaving Casablanca depend upon Rick, a deeply disillusioned American expatriate who operates a popular nightclub. It turns out that before the fall of Paris, Rick and Ilsa had an intense love affair that ended suddenly when Ilsa disappeared. Rick is still in love with Ilsa, and she is in love with him. Rick and Ilsa must make choices that will either serve themselves or a greater good.
Casablanca, one of the most popular movies ever made, is considered by many to be an artistically flawless film.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
Selected Awards: 1943 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director (Curtiz), Best Screenplay; 1945 National Board of Review Awards: Ten Best Films of the Year; 1943 Academy Award Nominations: Best Actor (Bogart), Best Supporting Actor (Rains), Best Black & White Cinematography; Best Film Editing; Best Original Score. This film is ranked #2 on the American Film Institute’s List of the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time (2006). This film is listed in the National Film Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress as a “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” film.
Featured Actors: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Conrad Veidt, S.Z. Sakall, Dooley Wilson, Marcel Dalio, John Qualen, Helmut Dantine.
Director: Michael Curtiz.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
English Language Arts Classes: The film provides an excellent example of extended metaphor. It shows the interaction between an extended metaphor and symbol. The movie also provides an example of the Hero’s Journey, Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth, in which the hero undertakes a quest for personal growth and development.
Social Studies Classes: The movie will confirm basic lessons about the early part of WWII in Europe and Africa and will provide students with a visceral understanding of the movement of American sentiment away from isolationism and to engagement on the world stage. The film is an excellent example of historical fiction, even though it doesn’t mention the most important historical events which it portrays.
English Language Arts Classes: The movie facilitates learning about extended metaphor and symbol. Students will understand that a filmed story can contain many layers.
American History Classes: The movie provides a different way to study the end of American isolationism. It is an excellent reward film (with a little work attached) and in addition to a list of films for students to watch at home and answer as homework a series of questions. See TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.
USING IN THE CLASSROOM
Introducing the Movie
Tell students that Casablanca is a great love story and more.
To appreciate the extended metaphor in Casablanca and the movie in general, students need to have brief background information on the following topics:
(1) isolationism in the U.S. after WWI and extending through 1941;
(2) the first two years of WWII (1939 – 1941) with particular emphasis on what was occurring in France and its empire;
(3) Czechoslovakia and the Munich Conference;
(4) the popularity of American Jazz music in Europe, with particular emphasis on the period before WWII and
(5) some of the techniques of black and white photography employed in the film.
This background can be delivered by having groups of students research each of the five topics and make presentations to the class. The minimum information necessary is also contained in TWM’s Casablanca Pre-Viewing Enrichment Worksheet, which can be assigned as in-class work or as homework. A final alternative is to provide the information through direct instruction.
Click here for TWM's Casablanca Pre-Viewing Enrichment Worksheet
Using Casablanca to Teach the Hero’s Journey
This film is a simple story of redemption through sacrifice. Rick has lost his way, consumed by bitterness and longing. When he finds that he can have what he has so long desired, he gives it all up for a cause and, in so doing, finds his way again. However, when the story is analyzed from the standpoint of the Hero’s Journey, first identified by Joseph Campbell, it clearly contains most of the twelve stages identified in the film by Christopher Vogler in his book, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition. Note, however, as is often the case, the stages do not appear in their classic order. Casablanca is not the strongest example of the Monomyth, but the fact that the stages of the Hero’s Journey can be found in such a simple story of love and redemption, speaks to the power of the concept. (Click here for a student handout describing the stages of the journey most often used film.) TWM has also provided a worksheet which can be used by students to track the stages of the journey. See TWM’s Hero’s Journey Film Study Worksheet.
Set out below are the suggested strong responses to the prompts on the Hero’s Journey Film Study Worksheet. The suggested responses are matters of interpretation and reasonable minds may differ. Student responses are not right or wrong, they are weak or strong.
I. Write a short single-paragraph description of the Hero’s Journey described in Casablanca.
Rick progresses from a self-centered cynic (“I stick my neck out for nobody” and “The problems of the world are not in my department”), to a caring individual who is able to sacrifice a life with the woman he loves for the benefit of others and who joins the fight of good men against fascism.
II. For each stage of the Hero’s Journey describe the action of the film, if any, which manifests the stage. Specify the attributes of the stage to which these actions relate. Remember, some characters can have more than one function in the story and one or more of the stages can be skipped or combined.
SECTION ONE — Introduction to Setting, Characters & Conflict
1. The Ordinary World:
Rick’s café in Morocco is Rick’s ordinary world, a world in which Rick is disengaged and cynical. He lives without love or allegiance to a cause at a time when people had to a take stand against fascist tyranny. It could also be argued that the flashback scene showing Rick in Paris prior to the German occupation constitutes his ordinary world. Rick’s time in Paris shows a happy man not yet in the pit of disillusion. Either of the options work and both the happiness and the disillusion are important characteristics of Rick.
2. Call to Adventure:
The call to adventure can be found when Laszlo asks Rick for the letters of transit. It could also be said that the call to adventure occurred when Ilsa walks into Rick’s café. Prior to this moment, Rick lived with a good degree of harmony in the turmoil around him.
3. Refusal of the Call:
Rick refuses the call when he tells Laszlo that the letters of transit are not for sale. Another refusal occurs at the beginning of the late night interview with Ilsa.
4. Meeting with the Mentor:
Laszlo is Rick’s mentor. Laszlo is a true leader, inspiring people to go beyond what they had ever thought possible in doing what is right. Laszlo is the only person in the movie that Rick admires. It could be said that Laszlo mentors Rick just by existing in close proximity. Laszlo’s active mentoring of Rick occurs just after Rick undertakes the quest by telling Ilsa that he will think for them both. Although Rick has already crossed the first threshold when Rick tells his orchestra to play “La Marseillaise” neither Rick nor the audience know if he is going to follow through on this small movement toward anti-fascism. The active mentoring occurs in the scene when Laszlo and Carl have just come into the bar, running from the police who have broken up the Underground meeting. As Rick tends to the small cut on Laszlo’s hand, Rick makes a particularly cynical remark and Laszlo responds, “You know how you sound, Monsieur Blaine? Like a man who’s trying to convince himself of something he doesn’t believe in his heart. Each of us has a destiny, for good or for evil. . . . I wonder if you know that you’re trying to escape from yourself and that you’ll never succeed.” Laszlo has Rick figured out.
5. Crossing the First Threshold:
When Rick gives the o.k. to the orchestra to play “La Marseillaise” he was crossing the first threshold. At that time “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem, was a song that for the last 150 years had been associated with resistance to tyranny. Thus, it had a meaning for Laszlo, a Czech, and for all of the refugees in Rick’s saloon of whatever nationality. The song is recognized by the Germans and everyone present as an act of resistance and leads the Germans to demand that Renault to close the café.
SECTION TWO — Action, Climax, Triumph
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies:
Rick’s quest begins before he really knows that he is on the quest. It could be argued that it started when he began doing things like helping the young Bulgarian couple get the money to escape, but he had done similar things in the past. It could also be argued that it started when he tolerated his employees being in the Underground. According to this argument, his allies are his employees. However, a strong argument is that these types of events had occurred before the call to adventure and that they were part of Rick’s Ordinary World. This argument continues that the quest didn’t really begin until Ilsa and Laszlo came to his club. Rick’s enemies are General Strasser and for a time, the Prefect of Police Captain Renault. The conscious quest that begins when Rick agrees to start thinking for both himself and Ilsa doesn’t involve any allies, he pulls it off pretty much by himself without the assistance of anyone, except perhaps Renault at the very end. There are several tests, as when he pulls the gun on Renault, kills Strasser and lies to Laszlo about what happened the night before with him and Ilsa. At the airport, Renault becomes an ally. Laszlo and Ilsa become allies.
7. Approach to the Inmost Cave:
An argument could be made that this stage occurs when Ilsa comes to Rick’s room and asks him for the letters of transit. When he refuses she threatens him with a gun. He says to her: “Go ahead and shoot. You’ll be doing me a favor.” But that’s not really Rick’s approach to the inmost cave because he has not yet fully accepted the quest and the possibility of death from the quest. This stage occurs off-camera, when Rick decides on his plan to force Renault to allow Ilsa and Laszlo to get on the Lisbon plane. This plan had many risks and could easily have resulted in Rick, Ilsa and Laszlo being killed or put into a concentration camp. A good argument could be made that this stage is missing from Rick’s quest.
This stage involves Rick’s having to think for Ilsa and creating and executing the plan to get Ilsa and Laszlo out of Casablanca.
Rick’s reward occurs when the plane to Lisbon takes off with Laszlo and Ilsa on it. Another valid response is that Rick receives his reward when Laszlo, his mentor, says, “Welcome back to the fight. This time I know our side will win.” Yet a third valid response is that Rick’s reward is something that he gives to himself, the self-respect that he now has that he has done the right thing and the love that he can allow himself to feel for Ilsa, knowing that she loves him, too. A final possible reward is Ilsa’s love, which he will always have, from afar, and which he would eventually have lost if he had not helped Laszlo escape with his wife, i.e., with Ilsa.
SECTION THREE — Resolution and Denouement
10. The Road Back:
This stage occurs at the very end when Rick and Renault are setting off to find the Underground.
Rick’s resurrection occurs throughout the last quarter of the film, as he begins to think for both himself and Ilsa, determines that their love is ill-fated and that he will help Laszlo take Ilsa to Lisbon and then to the U.S.
12. Return with the Elixir:
The elixir in this film is Rick’s realization that there is something outside of himself worth fighting for. Earlier he had said he was not good at being noble, but he is now behaving as would a noble individual. The return is the audience’s realization of this fact.
III. Identify the archetypes of the Hero’s Journey that appear in the movie and, for each, describe the function it performs in telling the film’s story. The following are the archetypes associated with the story of a quest.
1. The Hero:
Rick is the hero and the protagonist of the story.
2. The Mentor:
Laszlo is the mentor. See the description of Laszlo’s role in stage 4.
3. Threshold Guardians:
Renault in his incarnation early in the movie is a threshold guardian. Later, he changes to become an ally.
4. The Herald:
Laszlo is the Herald, as well as the Mentor.
Rick is the main shapeshifter in this story. Ilsa, too, is a shapeshifter, being Rick’s passionate lover in Paris one minute and gone the next, then appearing as the devoted wife of Laszlo and finally being willing to throw it all over and go with Rick.
6. The Shadow:
It is the other side of Rick, the bitter disillusioned side that is the Shadow. As the movie begins we see Rick in the shadow and as the movie progresses, he moves out of it.
7. The Trickster:
There is no trickster in this story.
IV. Describe any other archetypes that appear in the story and the functions they perform:
There are no other archetypes in this story.
After the film has been viewed give students time to share ideas with others and to fill in their worksheets. Give and take of ideas among students can be illuminating in this effort to determine whether or not Rick constitutes a true hero.
Assignment: Deliver the following prompt:
In a formal essay, illustrate, using as many of the stages of the Hero’s Journey as you see appropriate to support your point, how Rick, in Casablanca becomes a heroic character. Be sure to show his transformation from cynic to believer. Be sure to site support by referring directly to specific scenes, dialogue or action taken.
Evaluate the essay using the rubrics to which your students have grown accustomed.
After the film has been watched, engage the class in a discussion about the movie.
The first two discussion questions should be asked in order and are a vehicle for introducing Casablanca as a multi-layered story which includes an extended metaphor.
1. This is a story of Rick’s redemption. To “redeem” means to “buy back.” What did Rick pay to redeem himself and what did get in return?
Answers will vary. Rick’s payment is to give up Isla and to enter the struggle against fascism. Rick has bought back his self-respect, a world-view in which he believes in the good causes for which he has often fought, and his belief in love, which he regained after he determined to sacrifice his love for Isla for her good and for the greater good of the cause against fascism.
2. A metaphor describes something by equating it with something which, literally, it cannot be. Some metaphors are short phrases such as, “Rosy fingered dawn.” (Dawn has no fingers.) Other metaphors are extended into entire stories. Casablanca is an extended metaphor for something relating to the United States. Describe the contours of this metaphor. Think about the time the movie was made, 1941, and what political issues were being debated in the U.S. at that time. Here is one more hint. What was the foreign policy of the U.S. in the 1930s? Think about details from the movie.
[If classes need more help to see the metaphor go to: clues to the extended metaphor.] Rick stands for the U.S. or the people of the U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s. He is disillusion and withdrawn, only concerned with himself and those immediately around him, such as his employees. Slowly, through the story, he becomes engaged and sacrifices what he love for the greater good; he gives up his restaurant and joins the resistance.
3. Waiting is a motif in the film that recurs several times. In relationship to the concept of Rick as a metaphor for the isolationism of America before it entered WWII, how does the pattern of waiting finally play out?
Answers will vary. Anti-fascist Europe had been waiting for years for the U.S. to become an ally. Refugees had been waiting long periods of time to escape the threats of a German victory. What is important is that the students note that all waiting is over as soon as Rick makes the decision to do the right thing. At that point the action moves rapidly forward.
4. Rick’s friend and employee, Sam, who plays “As Time Goes By,” is referred to as “the boy at the piano” by Ilsa. In today’s culture this would be unacceptable. What has changed in the years between 1941 and now that make referring to a black man as “boy” inappropriate?
Answers should recognize the raising of consciousness caused by the Civil Rights Movement of the l960s and possibly the earlier decision by the military to integrate troops and to recognize the efforts of black soldiers in the war effort.
5. On two occasions early in the film, characters say they are in Casablanca where they wait and wait and wait. The repetition of “waiting” becomes a motif and points the viewers in the direction of an idea. What is everyone waiting for? In terms of the metaphor relating to American isolationism, what is the waiting all about?
Refugees are waiting to escape the dangers of fascism; the world is waiting for America to enter the war and help draw the conflict to a close saving the world from the dangers of fascism.
6. Symbols can be seen throughout Casablanca. What symbolic statement is made when Captain Renault drops the bottle of Vichy water into the trash at the film’s end?
The French government under German occupation was located in Vichy, a French resort city famous for its mineral water. The water bottle dropped into the trash represents rejection of the puppet government and his role as a collaborator.
7. Ugarte wants Rick to hide the stolen letters of transit in Rick’s saloon. After Ugarte is arrested and Rick has done nothing to interfere with the authorities, Rick says; “I stick my neck out for nobody.” Why won’t Rick help Ugarte?
There are two reasons. First, there was nothing Rick could have done. The café was surrounded and Ugarte had no chance of escape, even if Rick helped him. Second, Rick repeats several times during the early part of the film that he is not interested in the problems of the world, that he is not interested in politics, and that he just wants to run his saloon.
8. Although Rick seems to have disdain for others, he shows genuine concern for some individuals and tries to help them. What evidence can you find to support this characteristic?
Rick allows the husband of a young woman from Bulgaria who had come to him for help in finding a way to America, to win the necessary money at the roulette wheel, a costly gesture for Rick. When his café is closed down, he continues to pay his employees and when he sells the place, part of the deal is that the new owner take care of Rick’s workers.
9. What evidence can you offer to illustrate Rick’s cynicism early in the movie?
Answers will vary: Rick says to Ugarte that the two dead couriers who had been carrying the letters of transit were just clerks until they were murdered, then they became the honored dead. Later, when Ilsa threatens to shoot him he says, “Go ahead. You’d be doing me a favor.” He shows cynicism when Major Strasser asks him his nationality and he says he is a drunkard. Although the line is humorous, it is bitter and contemptuous. Another cynical comment is when Rick says, “I’m not fighting for anything any more, except myself. I’m the only cause I’m interested it.”
10. The scene in which the Germans begin singing the German National Anthem until Laszlo leads the orchestra in the French National Anthem, “La Marseillaise,” is a rousing bit of patriotic sentimentality. What sentiment makes this scene so powerful?
Answers will vary: “La Marseillaise” is not only the French National anthem; it was the anthem of the French Revolution and refers generally to the desire of mankind for freedom and democracy. The scene shows, as Laszlo later says, that authoritarian violence and oppression cannot silence everyone; that there is hope for the triumph of freedom.
11. What can you offer as reasons that Rick changes his mind and makes sure that Laszlo and Ilsa escape together?
Answers will vary. It could be that as soon as Rick realizes that Ilsa truly loves him, he is able to drop his bitterness and return to the reasonable individual he had been before. His redemption requires that he do the right thing, which he is able to do once his pain and its subsequent self-absorption are gone.
12. Why must Rick put both Laszlo and Ilsa on the plane to Lisbon, staying behind to risk his life fighting for the Underground?
Rick cannot be the man that justifies Ilsa’s love without being engaged in the fight against fascism and since Laszlo is important to the fight and Ilsa’s place is with Laszlo, that means that Rick must give her up. Thus, it must be Ilsa and Laszlo who get on the plane to Lisbon.
1. If you were Rick, could you have sent the woman you loved to Lisbon?
2. If you were Ilsa, would you have left Rick in Paris with no explanation and left him again in Casablanca?
3. Rick had sunk pretty low. He had abandoned his principles and was just looking out for himself. Yet he did a wonderful and courageous thing. What does this say about the power of redemption?
4. Can a person ever sink so low that he cannot redeem himself?
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)
1. By the end of the movie, Rick does what he should have been doing all along, helping in the fight against the Nazis. What brought him to do this?
(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
2. Which of Rick’s actions of Rick’s demonstrated the ethical principle of caring for others?
(See questions in the Romantic Relationships section above.)
(Do your share to make your school and community better; Cooperate; Stay informed; vote; Be a good neighbor; Obey laws and rules; Respect authority; Protect the environment)
3. Does the ethical value of citizenship stop at the border of one’s own country?
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:
1. Write a formal essay in which you analyze both Rick and Laszlo so they can be seen as men who are radically different yet who emerge at the film’s end as heroes. Use scene, action, and dialogue to define character and reveal heroic qualities.
2. Research the nation of Morocco, including its history as a French colony. Look especially into the population of Jews in Morocco and how they fared during World War II once the Nazi troops had overthrown France. Present your findings in an oral report to the class.
3. Discuss, in a formal essay, Rick’s moral growth from self-interest to engagement and sacrifice. Compare this shift to the one made by the American public in terms of willingness to go to war to oppose fascism in other countries.
4. Laszlo was a member of the Underground movement fighting against the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. It is apparent at the end of the film that Rick will now become a part of a resistance movement. Research information about resistance movements in Europe during WWII and write an informative essay revealing their organizational patterns and their effectiveness in contributing to the defeat of the Nazis.
5. Write a formal essay in which you evaluate the basis for the claim that Casablanca serves as an extended metaphor for the abandonment of the isolationist attitude that kept America from entering the World War. In your essay, refer to characters, events, and dialogue that show Rick’s moral growth from self-interest to self-sacrifice and compare this shift to the one made by the American public in terms of willingness to go to war.
6. Discuss the following characters in terms of two factors: from what do they need redemption and how is that redemption achieved. Be sure to cite evidence from the film, in action or dialogue, that will add support to your thoughts. Write separate paragraphs for each.
- Rick; and
7. Research the nationalities of extras, actors and actresses playing ancillary or minor roles in Casablanca, many of whom had immigrated recently to the U.S. and some of whom had suffered loss of family in the European conflict. Take notes on your findings in terms of the social significance they lend to the film. Present the details to the class and share your commentary. Be prepared to defend your point of view.
8. Write a persuasive essay on the role of Casablanca as propaganda aimed at cementing public support for entry into World War II. You may determine that the movie is a romance with no intention of pushing a social point of view or that the story is fully involved in the effort to end isolationism. Use reference to scenes, dialogue and action to back up your point.
9. Write a character analysis of Rick. Use scenes, dialogue and action to create a clear picture of the kind of person Rick is portrayed to be. Judge his character, his motives and his status as a hero.
10. Read the screenplay or watch the film again at home and collect quotes of some of the humorous lines in the film to see if there is a social comment being made. Discuss its implications for the themes of the story.
11. Research the nation of Morocco, including its history as a colony of France. Look especially into the population of Jews in Morocco and how they fared during World War II. Present your findings in a formal research paper.
12. Compare and contrast the characters of Rick and Laszlo, Ilsa and Yvonne, Rick and Signor Ferrari, Renault and Strasser. Write a paragraph for each pair describing what point is being served by creating these contrasting characters.
This list is from the dialog of the screenplay: embarkation, tortuous, Mediterranean, visa, refugee, gravitate, Prefect, despise, parasite, commodity, isolationism, extravagant, abscond, sentimentalist, fundamental, “blares out,” linger, tentative, impassive, crusader, bazaar, stall, monopoly, “carrying charges,” hypocrite, ransack, influential, Vichy, flatter, Boche, compliment, “rank sentimentalist,” “La Marseillaise,” Mademoiselle, concentration camp, gaze, garrison.
The following words are in the stage directions of the screenplay: turret, Polyglot, Pandemonium, hectic, refugee, “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite,” disconcerted, Prefect, chic, sophistication, intrigue, “Babel of foreign tongues,” Jovial, burly, tout, cynical, gendarme, illuminate, grim, rubble, demolished, cluster, “trifle disconcerted” chic, sophistication, intrigue, “Babel of foreign tongues,” jovial, burly, tout (used to describe Ugarte); cynical, despise, parasite, commodity, isolationism, extravagant, abscond, sentimentalist, gendarme, fundamental, illuminate, grim, rubble, demolished, cluster, hectic, fevered, as in “hectic, fevered excitement,” nonchalantly, exclamations, demoralized, ironically, and croupier.