Sunday, February 02, 2014

New Checklist and Rulebook Casefile: The Moral Dilemmas Throughout Casablanca

I’ve updated the Checklist road test for Casablanca and you can check it out here. Now let’s look at one of the new answers in more depth:

A new question on the checklist clarifies that yes, the entire story should be driven by an overall irreconcilable good vs. good moral dilemma, but the heroes should also face a long succession of additional dilemmas throughout the story. Casablanca is an excellent example of how such dilemmas can pile up, and also how the presence of these dilemmas need not sour the mood.
  • Before we even meet Rick we see the question that hangs over his employees: Is it worth accommodating the Nazis to keep the peace? How much interference in the club’s affairs will be too much?
  • Then we meet Rick, as Ugarte asks Rick to hide the letters for him. Should Rick risk his tricky peace with the Nazis to protect this man and his letters?
  • When the police show up to arrest Ugarte, he begs Rick for help. Rick has already assured Renault “I stick my neck out for no one,” but it’s hard to say no when Ugarte is clinging to him and begging as the Nazis drag him away. Unlike many “hero’s flaw” scenes, Rick faces a genuinely hard choice. This isn’t one of those “girl clearly wants to be kissed but the hero just can’t overcome his shyness” scenes. We disapprove of his Rick’s callousness, but we’ve come to appreciate the impossibility of his position and we can’t see any other feasible action he could have taken.
  • Of course, we then arrive at the big question: If you suspect your ex still loves you, should you try to steal her away from her new love? This question will drive the main narrative, but others continue to pile up…
  • This leads to a flashback, where Ilsa is torn by a similar question: Should you leave your new love if your husband turns up alive?  And if you do, is it kinder to explain or slip away?
  • Meanwhile, a subplot asks, should you sleep with a corrupt official to save your husband’s life?
  • Later, Victor must ask, should you ask someone to attend a resistance meeting if you know it might get them killed?
These are all tough questions. There are no easy answers, and we dread the thought that we may ever have to face such dilemmas. And yet the mood of this movie remains sophisticated, continental, and altogether effervescent, even though the painful emotional dilemmas being faced by every character in every scene could not be more dire. The comedy is made that much sharper by scraping up against these cold, hard whetstones.

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