The movie Casablanca is characterized by a lot of sociological concepts, analyzing issues concerning, social class, race, sacrifice and many others. Casablanca is indeed the kind of movie which makes us meditate and rethink about the world around us. Goetz & Machesney (1992) states, "overall plot of the film is straight forward nevertheless the movie is hardly one-dimensional, partly because of its irresolvable fundamental conflict and to some extent because it works as both a rational and a political allegory" (p.56).
The 1st sociological concept demonstrated in the movie is that of the difficulty of impartiality and neutrality. Miller and Hudson (1941) remarks, "In war and love: IIsa, Rick and Louis find it extremely difficult to maintain neutrality" (p. 108) Rick avoids being involved in anything to do with politics and pretends to be non partisan. He refuses to say anything about the war and fails to listen to Carl when he makes numerous attempts to inform him of the underground meetings; however later on, Rick changes from being neutral and becomes committed just as the USA discarded neutrality in 1941. According to Harmetz (1999) Rick's compassion for the allies is evident in many events, such as when he refused to authorize a Deutsche Bank worker from gaining entry into his Casino back rooms but his links with the allies become more obvious as the movie progresses. On the other hand Louis undergoes a similar conversion and as the movie nears the end neutrality becomes an untenable situation.
Casablanca as well as Rick's Café is an oasis located in the middle of the desert: shielded from the troubles of the world like a paradise. Yet the activities of the black market and the underground which occur at Rick's contradict these qualities. The French and German battle of anthems which erupts within the bar is evidence enough of Rick's political passion. (Brett & Elzinga, 2006, p. 451) When Rick is visited by IIsa in his apartment where she declares that she is still in love with him, she tries to be neutral because she clearly knew that the two men who loved had an undeclared war between them. She tries her best to deny the dilemma she is going through until she realizes she has to choose between Laszlo and Rick; she leaves the decision in the hands of Rick. No painless or clean resolution is achievable and hard choices had to be made. Casablanca suggests once again that in love as in war neutrality is untenable.
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Another well demonstrated sociological concept well depicted in the film is that of fascism and its impact on society. The Nazis try to organize Casablanca according to their values, perspectives and systems such as they seize control of the economy as well as the political system as a whole. In the film, the Nazis have a spotlight positioned at the top of a tall tower which lights up the whole city. Richards (1997) notes, "The Spotlight reminds people that they are under strict surveillance. The spotlight is frequently focused at Rick's bar frequently circling the front gate". The Germans authoritarian and fascist nature is seen when Commander Strasser blindly led several solders to search for the killers of the German couriers. The Nazi commanders are cruel, ruthless and robotically efficient; Strasser, the main Nazi villain often results to cruelty in punishing his enemies and goes to any extreme to ensure that Laszlo does not leave Casablanca.
The Vichi government led by Louise is also full of fascism and authoritarian rule. He only cares for himself and receives regular bribes from the casino. While referring to the refugee situation, Louise says, "That's not my problem, in refugees only, we are making fortunes through the black market" Steiner (1997, p 164) Gambling is illegal yet Louise does not shut down the casino until Stresser compels him to do so. Just like other fascist governments, the Nazi rule in Casablanca is through the ideology that the economic class of society cannot adequately govern the country and that the best military personnel ought to rule by first regimenting a country's production forces.
Fascism is also seen in the broader perspective of the movie where we see a city in which fascist economic and political commanders have incarcerated hundreds of thousands of people and continue to tyrannize every corner of the city. Some brave characters in the film are fighting against the powerful tyrannical world powers while others die trying to frantically escape from it: others simply accept defeat and endure it. The terrible situation is clearly explained at the start of the film whereby a voice explains the terrible global situation and thereafter a man is gunned down when he attempt to flee from gerdarmes. The man dies just next to a poster which has a picture of Marshall Petain Philippe, holding a France Resistant note. In this case Marshall Philippe represents people who work in partnership with fascism. Goetz & Machesney (1992, p, 71), On the other hand the Nazis represent economic and political systems which annihilate human life on the basis that specific class of people such as the wealthy are masters of the planet and they are the only people fit to rule.
Fascism is seen also through allegory with a broader significance. The movie depicts how modern forms of totalitarianism prevails in our world ruining human lives through worldwide tendencies of paying slave wages in order to make windfall profits. Rick represents people who fight against fascism and totalitarian oppression. According to Staler (1980) at the start of the film he depicts modern women and men in society who are uncommitted, self centered and unsympathetic to events occurring in the world. (p, 213). He shows his attitude in the statement, "I don't stick my neck on the line for anyone" Harmetz (1992, p, 69). In my opinion his cynical attitude was due to frustration and bitterness with IIsa as well as the disappointment he faced while fighting against the fascist regime in Spain.
The film focuses on showing the hardships of exiles and foreigners as a sociological issue affecting all the major characters. Casablanca is full of foreigners who are mainly exiles of the war. Among all the major characters, only Abdul the doorman is really Moroccan. Even though characters in the film such as conquering Germans or the colonialist French aren't in Casablanca as a result of being exiled, the majority of the people are.
Rick camouflages himself as just another disillusioned expatriate from America, however in the real sense he is another exile from America: he can neither go back to America nor can he head for France since it's still occupied by the Germans. The hardship of homelessness and frustration are shown clearly in the film. The film starts with an assortment of various transportation means such as planes, cars, ships and trains which refugees use to get to Casablanca. Richards (1997) remarks, "The film depicts hurried travel and contrasts it with leisure voyage for example IIsa and Rick share a boat ride along the Seine as well as a car ride through Paris both of which are clearly shown in the Paris flashback. The film demonstrates that travel can (in case of the exiles) be a means as well as an end in itself (as depicted in the tourist voyages".
The difference is that the refugee has to find a new home while the tourist will eventually go back home. The refugee is forever homeless travelling endlessly. It's remarkable how the film addresses many of the problems and hardships which confronted the world after 1942. The film starts with a strong evocation of the enormous refugee problem created by German invasion of many countries in Europe. Goetz & Machesney (1992) notes that, "the plight of political refugees who are running away from Nazi persecution is shown throughout the film" (p. 93). Many scenes refer to the bad conditions of Nazi concentration camps in an effort to create awareness in America. The movie unmistakably criticizes the collaborationist's policies undertaken by the Vichy government.
The film also clearly demonstrates the sociological concept of nationalism. It's evident in the transformation of Captain Renault Louis, the home French commander in charge of Casablanca. Captain Renault, in the beginning of the movie is depicted as pro-Vichy Nazi yet as time progresses he slowly transforms into a partisan of supporting a liberated France. Eurpoean Renault Louise and American Rick support and look out for interests of one another. In the long run we see that different nationalities can succumb to personal interests and ambitions. The relationship of the commander and Rick develops into a complete self serving coalition of two influential cynics. Steiner (1997), Rick remarks "Louis, I believe that this is the start of a wonderful friendship" (p, 166) this statement reinforces not only their new found friendship but also the established anti Nazi alliance which their friendship symbolizes. This friendship also suggests America's alliance to the allies during the World War 2.
While Louise and Rick find their national identities only as the find is about to end several other characters seem to have a firm grasp of their stand from the very start. In large part, it's evident that their nationality had a role to play. Victor Laszlo who is a popular anti-Nazi author is Czech, and because Nazi Germany had attacked Czechoslovakia in an attempt to acquire it, the Czechs were well aware of Nazi's wickedness prior to anyone else. Miller and Hudson (1941), Likewise, the movie shows us that all characters in favor of the underground anti Nazi movement in Casablanca come from countries which oppose German Rule: such as IIsa and the Norwegian Berger as well as the Sacha the Russian bartender. On the other hand, some of the movies' uncouth characters for example the criminal Ugarte, Signor Ferrari the black market plotter as well as Tonelli the officer are all Italians and Italy was an ally of Germany in the period of the war. Even though the Italians as depicted in the movie are not worth any respect none can be compared to the ruthlessness and brutality of Major Strasser, the movies' archetypical Nazi criminal.
A review of Brett & Elzinga, (2006), reveals that even though Louise transformation is more humorous and less dramatic he depicts the concept of nationalism in comical way which is less intense. Brett states "just like the Vichy government he symbolizes, which requested the Nazis for better treatment as well as favors, Louise lacks strong conviction and befriends anyone in power within the government". (p.121)He does everything in order to express his loyalty to Strasser. He arrests Laszlo and Ugate, shuts down Ricky's bar, to make an impression on his Nazi superior.
Element of unsystematic crime is another sociological issue which the movie tries to bring out. Guillermo Ugarte, a popular black market dealer signifies how disorganized crime impacts the society as well as culture. He kills 2 German couriers and confiscates several non cancellable French signed transit letters on their way out of Casablanca. Urgarte portrays people who survive in human misery always looking for the highest bidder but in the long run he ends up dead. Senator Ferrari also represents organized crime in society; he handles disposing and buying of human beings through his prostitution network, assassination and drug peddling. He collaborates closely with fascist rulers and receives many benefits from the misery being caused by the oppressive regime as observed in Harmetz (1999, p, 80).
Another sociological concept clearly evident is that of the impact of "inescapable past" on society and on individual characters. Loise, IIsa, and Rick can neither run away from their past nor can they escape their memories. Even in cases where characters try to run away from their past it eventually catches up. IIsa thinks she has lost close friends in her life on two occasions but they show up at the most problematic moments. On the other hand, Rick while in Casablanca, adopts a lifestyle which he believed would enable him forget his past but the refugees running away from the war to the USA keep remind him of past events of his mysterious life which makes him not to go back home. Louis, who seems capable of switching alliances easily, is the only character in the whole movie who suggests that they can escape the past; yet Louise acknowledges the fact that decisions have consequences. He concludes that he has to flee Casablanca since there was no other way of escaping the consequences of helping Rick. Although he wants to take no notice of his past, in this situation he simply can't.
The belief and power of Luck in society cannot be underestimated as a sociological concept as depicted in the film. Luck plays a key role in throughout the movie but prominently in Rick's café. Gambling is among the most popular activity in the café while "knock on the wood" is Sam's most liked songs Miller and Hudson (1941, p, 99). Mr. Brandel and his wife, show how luck is evident in the film. The couple tries to win enough money to purchase some exit visas. In Louis situation, luck brings a stunning girl like Mrs. Brandel which gives him the opportunity to take advantage of her. In his case luck is the girl, a concept that shows both powerlessness as well as seduction. Rick's luck comes in a different way. When he tries to assist the unsuccessful Brandels through rigging the roulette, he enables the couple to "miraculously" win twice thereafter gaining the amount they required.
When Mrs. Brandel tries to thank Rick for his charitable deed he simply shrugs and tells her that her husband is 'a very lucky man'. This has two meanings: Literary he means her husband is a lucky man in gambling yet he clearly knows it is a lie. Metaphorically, he is truthfully saying that Brandel is lucky because he has a loving and courageous wife. In general, people in Casablanca are capable of bringing bad and good luck to one another. When Sam and IIsa first talk, Sam convinces IIsa to stay as far away from Rick as possible since she brings bad luck to him: However this remark is not completely true since heartbreak doesn't have anything to do with luck. In this case they were simply using luck to hide a more hurting truth. "It's worth noting that luck in Casablanca is not completely independent of human influence.
This is evident when Ugarte is arrested when he was gambling" as stated in Goetz & Machesney (1992, p, 119). This implies that he was unlucky however the truth is that he caused his own problems by stealing and murdering therefore we cannot blame bad fortune as the reason of his arrest. Another critical sociological issue which is prevalent in residents of Casablanca is that of the "American dream illusion". All refugees in Casablanca hope to go to America. Since Casablanca is definitely the oasis at the middle of the desert, to the exiles, America must be the Promised Land. The refugees see America as not just a temporary exile but as a permanent home where they can start their live again.
Analysis of Harmetz (1999) reveals that the difference between perpetual exile and the refugee is subject to the ability to find a way to go to America: "It signifies the ultimate ending of the struggles of the refugees where exile comes to an ends and a new free life starts" (p.114). As the film nears the end Rick leaves Casablanca which is locate East of Africa and heads to Brazzaville which is at the heart of Morocco, it neither the promised land nor is it desert instead its pure jungle. I believe that since America signifies what is known and admired, Brazzaville on the other hand represents uncertainty and unpredictability since it pure jungle. Therefore for Rick it's just the beginning of his journey.
Throughout the film, political and personal idealism has been portrayed as sociological issues which in normal Hollywood movies, no conflict would arise and political idealism and love would in all likely-hood move hand in hand. The conclusion of the movie involves not only the triumph of the idealistic values of restraint but also the pro allied miss-information and propaganda. Ricks decision to allow Laszlo to leave with IIsa is perfect example of conflict between personal idealism and personal idealism. It also demonstrates the principal of prioritizing concerns which are long term over short term ones. Rick exchanges his present love for freedom and victory to triumph in future.
On the other hand we can view Laszlo's actions as personal idealism; he risks getting put in concentration camps and suffer imprisonment as well as the life of constantly running all for the sake of getting a better future. Though some of these actions are typical of Hollywood endings, the film shows the significance of the moral value of restraint and conquest of political desire over personal ones. But In my own personal opinion the closing scene is chock-full of ambiguity. There is no way to tell IIsa's true favorite between Laszlo and Rick. Laszlo definitely loves IIsa but IIsa's and Ricks feelings aren't so obvious.
The allegory of sacrifice and love continues throughout the entire movie and forms significant sociological issues as represented by the major characters in the film. IIsa suffers the most, First her husband is rumored to have died after being arrested. When he shows up she is forced to escape with him and run away while the Nazis are constantly pursuing them. She meets Rick only to be forced to leave him again after faling in love with him. Even though she gets opportunities of gaining both freedom and love; at the final scene she does not decide her personal fate. She is unable to guide her destiny when she lets Rick decide which lead to her tragic and dark fatalism. Its only in the concluding scene where we deeply grasp the complete misery and despair in all major characters.
Casablanca tells a narrative of an awakening which turns the main character (Rick) into a self sacrificing optimist dedicated to the war effort against the Nazis. He fails to live happily with IIsa but on the other hand he accepts the inevitability of his sacrifice as well as the devastating heartbreak that comes along with it. If IIsa had not showed up in Rick's life he would have never overcome his bitterness and instead it becomes his source of motivation. Rick becomes awakened to himself and to the world.
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