April 08, 2015

#10: New Beginnings

In this ten-part series I study the screenplay of ‘Casablanca’ by breaking it down to its several aspects. Click here and read from down upward for the entire series.

“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. Someday you’ll understand that.”

Story Covered in this final part: Ilsa rushes to Rick to confirm that Laszlo is leaving and she is staying back with Rick. Rick reassures her. Laszlo believes Rick has arranged for Ilsa to leave with him and is thankful to Rick. Rick hands him the letters of transit without accepting any money in return. At that moment, Renault appears to arrest Laszlo. But his smile fades as he finds Rick pointing a gun at him. Rick makes Renault call the airport to ensure no problems ahead. But, actually, Renault has called Major Strasser who immediately leaves for the airport. Rick and others reach there. Once Laszlo goes to take care of the luggage Rick makes Renault fill in the names of Laszlo and Ilsa on the letters. To their surprise, Rick reveals to Ilsa that she is going to leave with Laszlo. Despite Ilsa’s protests, he convinces her, that this is the right thing to do, that Laszlo will need her, and more importantly, Rick too is going to enter the war. When Laszlo returns he informs him about Ilsa’s attempt to get the letters from him last night and that he does not believe she really loves him. Laszlo thanks Rick, and welcomes him back to the fight. He leaves with a teary-eyed Ilsa. Strasser reaches just when the flight is about to take off. Rick shoots him dead. Renault helps Rick escape arrest and as the plane takes off Renault earns his sense of patriotism. He and Rick are soon going to disappear from Casablanca and join the war.

Step Outline:
  • Pg 115-117: At Rick’s. Scene between Rick and Ilsa and Laszlo. And Renault.
  • Pg 118: Strasser has received Renaults call. He leaves for the airport.
  • Pg 119-126: The climax at the airport. (With one brief intercut on pg 122 to show Strasser driving to the airport.)
        Structure: The rhythm and the pace of the events in this section are dramatically and emotionally so involving that we hardly have time to breathe. The classical design of the Climax comes into play that plays on reversal of expectations, using cinematic tools (see below), and an end that brings satisfying emotional resolution to not only the main plot, but all sub-plots.

The Character arc:
  • Rick completely drives the climax, with his presence of mind, wisdom, and courage. By doing everything right, he has fulfilled our emotional investment in him.
  • Ilsa completely surrenders to Rick’s command. Despite the pain, and the knowledge that she may never see him again, she understands what he has decided is the best for all of them. Their love story will stay unfulfilled, but Rick has successfully brought to it purity and pride.
  • Laszlo continues to impress us with his understanding. Not only he implies that he understands the sacrifice Rick and Ilsa are making for the greater cause, he also makes sure to ask Ilsa if she is ready to join him on the plane. He also admires Rick’s entry into the War.
Sub-plots: Apart from the resolution of the incredibly beautiful love story between Rick and Ilsa, that was the main plot of the film, the following subplots are resolved as well.
  • Laszlo's escape brings a satisfying end to the political drama
  • Rick is back in the fight
  • Renault’s sense of patriotism is back. Despite trying his best to prevent Laszlo from escaping until the last minute, Rick’s sacrifice makes sure that Renault finally gives up his selfish and corrupt ways.
  • Renault always had a soft-corner for Rick. It resolves when he helps Rick after he kills Strasser. We are not sure how much Rick will trust him, but for a while they are going to be together. The famous line that closes the film assures us of that, when Rick says, walking away: “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
  • Strasser dies. If there is one character who deserved to die, it is he, the one who is most brutal, and the one who signifies the Nazis.
Tools Employed:
  • Reversing Expectation: Since we are not aware of Rick’s plans, and he manages to create wrong expectations in all of us, including the characters on screen, what he eventually ends up doing is an extraordinarily pleasing surprise.
  • Surprise: When forced to call the airport by Rick, Renault makes the call. But as the scene ends we cut to the other end of the phone call and are surprised to find it was Strasser whom Renault had called, thus informing him about the escape plan.
  • Time-lock and Rising Tension: And thanks to that phone call, the tension in the film rises like never before. There are several films where all characters converge at one place at the climax, but not many films manage tension so effortlessly and effectively. Also, as soon as we cut to location of the climax, the airport, an Orderly makes a call informing us that the Lisbon flight is leaving in ten minutes, thus creating a time-lock and enhancing the sense of tension.
  • Cinematically stunning climax: Apart from closing on great emotional and dramatic high, the climax also works cinematically, visually. One, heavy fog surrounds the airport. Two, the energy of the moment and intercutting with Strasser driving to the airport gives it a formal urgency.
  • One big theme of the film has been the struggle between the personal and the political. Rick’s passion has turned this patriotic and compassionate man into a recluse. Renault’s premature line “Love, it seems, has triumphed over virtue” further confirms this struggle. And in the final lines spoken by Rick to convince Ilsa, the personal desires and the political virtues meet, merging into each other, losing something for the greater good. What powerful lines: “Inside of us we both know you belong to 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… May be not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life… We’ll always have Paris. We didn’t have, we’d lost it, until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.”
  • Also, Rick’s entry into the War signifies more than just personal. Remember, the setting of the movie is December 1941, precisely when America entered the war. Hence, Rick’s personification of the USA is complete here.
  • Rick’s killing of Strasser foreshadows Germany’s defeat in the War some years after the film’s release.
Standout scene: The final scene at the airport, for obvious reasons.

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