This series of posts is dedicated to the upcoming festival of love. In the next week leading up to Valentine’s day, I will attempt to explore the meaning of “love” by looking at some of the most noteworthy Romance films from the last 70 years.
Yesterday, we looked at The Philadelphia story(1940) directed by George Cukor. Some realists reading this blog might suggest that Cukor clearly have never heard the phrase “All’s fair in love and war”. After all, how often does stories like The Philadelphia Story ever happen? Guy loves girl, guy waits for girl, girl become guy’s girl, guy and girl lives happily after. What a fairy tale…
The reality is, if you don’t fight for the one you love, then they’ll just run off with someone else. A real man can’t just sit and wait for some angel to fall in his lap. He need to test the waters, declare the war, plan the approach, show off the assets, know his strength, understand her weakness, perfect the moves, learn to adapt, use the environment, and never, ever underestimate the importance of gossip and espionage. Only then can he defeat all suitors and capture the prey.
The question then is, who is more important? The one doing the loving? or the one being loved? Is it really that important to “capture the prey”? With these questions, I welcome you to the second part of Love in Cinema since 1940.
Casablanca (1942), Love is sacrifice
If then 1940s is the golden age of filmmaking, then Casablanca(1942) directed by Michael Curtiz is the golden film of the 1940s. Usually, I tends to get a kick out of criticizing critically acclaimed films. But Casablanca, with it’s very limited budget, an extremely simple story, and dead solid acting stands in my mind as a milestone in the history of filmmaking.
This film is set during the Second World War. As people tries to escape from Nazi rule and travel to the United States, Casablanca has become a gate way city to freedom as well as a waiting room for people with no exit visas. The film follow the story of Rick (Humphrey Bogart), a bar owner at Casablanca who is famous for being politically neutral. With a cold demeanour and a lack of emotion, he is concerned with no one except himself. Very early in the film, Rick accidentally acquires some exit visa when a visa dealer was captured in his bar. Rick’s world was turned upside down when his past lover Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) shows up in his bar with a man named Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), an influencial rebelion leader.
Rick and Ilsa originally met and fell in love in Paris. When they learn that the Germans will be in Paris soon, they planned on escaping together. On the night of escape, Ilsa did not show up, leaving a lovesick Rick soaking in the rain at the train station. We also learnt that the exit Visas Rick obtained was intended to be sold to Ilsa and Laszlo.
Feeling bitter about being abandoned and replaced, Rick refused to help Ilsa and Laszlo no matter what. But as much as he tries to seem indifferent, we can see his veneer slowly breaking.
It is also revealed that Laszlo was actually Ilsa’s husband, as well as. The exit visas Rick acquired was also originally for Ilsa and Laszlo for their escape. At first, Rick, holding a grudge for being abandoned by Ilsa was unwilling to help, but as the film progreses, Rick’s veneer slowly begins to break.
Ilsa sneaks to Rick’s place while Laszlo is out to ask Rick to help Laszlo escape. Ilsa reveals that Laszlo was actually her husband. Back in Paris, Ilsa was told that her husband had died in a concentration camp. But on the eve of Rick and Ilsa’s planned escape, she received word that her husband was alive, but very sick. Knowing Rick would not leave if she told him, Ilsa chose to give Rick the impression that she has left him. Ilsa promises to stay with Rick in Casalanca if Rick would help Laszlo escape, because she “…could not bear to leave him again…”.
Before their conversation had finished, Laszlo arrives at Rick’s bar. Rick agrees to Ilsa’s offer and helps Ilsa to escape out the window before coming downstairs to meet Laszlo. Laszlo told Rick that he know what happened between Ilsa and Rick in Paris, and asked Rick to take Ilsa away to America. Still appearing indifferent, Rick also agrees Laszlo’s offer but proceed to arrange the escape for both Ilsa and Laszlo and took upon himself the risk of potential arrest, or even death.
I am fully aware that I have just spoilled the entire movie for you, if you are still reading. But trust me, it doesn’t even matter. With a writing so solid, characters so grounded, and a vision so clear, Casablanca is like a painting which you can stare at for days after days without ever getting tired. It is a painting where the message is so simple, that it’s almost hard to understand.
In this film we saw that, be it Rick, Ilsa or Lazslo, they were all willing to sacrifice their own feelings and even their lives to save the one they love. Even if it meant seeing the one they love fly away to another world with another person. In a day and age where “I love you, so we’ll be together until death do we part” seem to be the holy grail of relationships, the concept of “I love you, so you and that guy can be together until death do you part” seems unthinkable. No matter how you go about it, the reason for this unthinkable-ness always comes down to one simple phrase: “What about me?”
Casablanca demonstrates that Love should not be like that. To love is not to conquest because love is selfless and love is always giving. It is difficult to take a bullet for someone. It requires courage, strength, and also a dose of adrenaline plus some random muscular impulse. But to love is much harder. To love means to provide without expectation of return. To love means to give up the self for the benefit of the other. It means to sacrifice. Sacrifice of time, energy, and sometimes even love itself. Only with sacrifice can there be love; the love that lets go.
Update: Click Here for Part 3