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Friday, October 14, 2005

"casablanca" - model for resistance or pro-war propaganda?

On today's, Karen Kwiatkowski's column takes a look at the film "Casablanca" and sees a courageous struggle against brutal state power, especially as personified in the character of Rick Blaine.
I was disturbed when I watched Casablanca this week, because I realized that the Vichy French colonies in 1942 were freer than downtown Washington, D.C. today. I was disturbed when it dawned upon me that today Herr Strasser would be completely at home in New Orleans or American-ruled Iraq.

But in the example of Rick Blaine, I glimpsed a remedy for all that. We need more Rick Blaines to stand casually unimpressed by vicious, corrupt and unjust government. We need more Rick Blaines to refuse to be intimidated. We need more Rick Blaines to show us what real independence looks like.

By the end of the movie, Rick moves into a more active, perhaps more committed, phase of resistance. Rick’s opposition to centralized, brutal and immoral government power becomes violent and irreversible when he kills Herr Strasser.
However, a quite different take on the movie can be found in this piece by R. Cort Kirkwood, which also appeared at a couple of years back. Kirkwood argues that "Casablanca" was a war propaganda film, and I am inclined to agree.
Throughout the film, Ilsa works on Rick’s conscience, stirring dim memories of romantic derring-do for the Commies during the Spanish Civil War. This, their rekindled but ultimately inutile romance, and her anti-Nazi speech converts Rick. He gives Ilsa and Laszlo the exit papers. In telling her she must go with Laszlo, Rick says, "I’ve got a job to do too. Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of."

You know what that means: The newly magnamimous convert, formerly a bitter, sad isolationist, has joined the Crusade. What wonders a little love from a sultry Swede can do!
The two views aren't necessarily opposites, although they are conflicting. If we focus on Rick's character, we do find an admirable quality of self sacrifice to resist Leviathan, at least the variety dished out by Nazi Germany. But on the whole, I believe the movie does its best to demonize the isolationist position, and supports U.S. involvement in the affairs of Europe. I must confess that I do find this classic movie quite enjoyable from a purely entertainment perspective; regardless of its motives or effects on the public conscience, there is no denying that it was well-made.


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