Casablanca is considered one of the most romantic movies in the history of film. Made during the glamorous golden age of Hollywood generations of viewers were transported and swept away by the story of Rick and Elsa, star-crossed lovers whose happy ending wasn’t meant to be.
I remember the first time I saw this movie. I was in high school, and like so many others before and after me, I fel in love with the movie and the star power of Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart. I loved all the subtext in the movie, and the restraint in Bogart and Bergman’s performances. They said so much with just a look. In fact, I love this movie so much that I was at a video rental store (remember those?!) in college and overheard a group of girls saying they’ve never seen the movie. I immediately marched them over to the classics section so that horrifying oversight could be rectified.
While widely considered a romantic movie, by the standards of our genre, Casablanca isn’t a romance. The protagonists, Rick and Elsa, did not get their happy ending. Instead, the movie ends with Rick convincing Elsa to get on the plane to Lisbon with her husband Victor to support Victor on his continuing efforts to fight the Nazis, while Rick stays in Casablanca, and joins the Resistance with Renault. If this were a proper romance, it would have been Rick and Elsa walking off into the fog together, not Rick and Louis. Rick and Elsa would have gotten the happy ending they deserved.
But would the movie have been as powerful and become such a cultural touchstone if Rick and Elsa had ended up together? Maybe the reason Casablanca has stood the test of time, still resonates so deeply, and captured our hearts and imaginations is precisely because the hero and heroine were cruelly separated by fate. Rick did the truly noble and heroic thing because he put Elsa’s best interests, and the interests of the Resistance, above his own personal wants and happiness. As he says,
I’m saying it because it’s true. Inside of us, we both know you belong with Victor. You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.
While Rick portrays himself as a self-interested, world-weary, and disillusioned ex-pat, he truly has a noble and honorable core.
Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.
The romance writer in me would love to find a way to give Elsa and Rick their happy ending without disrespecting Victor and what he meant to Elsa. How could you not love a man who can pull this off??!!
Not to mention, he showed great compassion and understanding when he let Rick know he knew about his and Elsa’s relationship, and didn’t judge or condemn. He is a good man, and deserves happiness too, and it’s clear he’s also devoted to Elsa. Maybe he dies and gives his blessing for Isla to reunite with Rick? Given the constraints of the time, this is the only solution I can think of.
So, what do you think? Are you a big fan of Casablanca too? Did you think the ending of the movie worked? If you were Elsa, would you have gotten on the plane, or stayed with Rick? Any other ideas for how to give Rick and Elsa their happy ending?