Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Coolness of Sacrifice

I know that for most people a major theme in Casablanca is sacrificing love for the greater good, but I just don't know if I buy it. Does Rick really love Ilsa? Personally, I have to say that I don't think he does. I think that for Rick, he idealizes Ilsa as the embodiment of his past when he fought definitively on the side of good, before France fell to the Nazis, before the war got real. However cynical I may be about the subject of Rick and Ilsa's love, I do still believe that Rick makes some pretty big sacrifices.

Hayley pointed out in her blog that before Ilsa left him, Rick seemed poised to become the quintessential hero: before Casablanca, he's the guy who doesn't get his hands dirty, who always lives up to his ideals. Rick does not end up in this role, though. Instead, he ends up in Casablanca dealing with corrupt Vichy French officers and Nazis, breaking laws right and left, all the while maintaining a cool as a cucumber persona and helping his customers get to America. For me, it is this sacrifice that makes Rick so cool. Rick Blaine is not a conventional hero, but he is a hero nonetheless.

Strangely enough, this morally ambiguous type of heroism and sacrifice has become a major icon of coolness in pop culture, especially in the realm of superheroes. The biggest example of cool sacrifice we've seen recently in the movies has to be the Caped Crusader himself, Batman. The most recent incarnation of Gotham City's favorite vigilante is in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, which puts a dark and deeply existential spin on a classic superhero. By the end of the film, Batman is faced with taking the blame for all of the chaos in Gotham City caused by the actions of the Joker and later Harvey Dent. He has two choices: either let the citizens of Gotham know that their beloved face of justice (Dent) has become a villain, thereby destroying any hope for a better Gotham, or take the blame for everything gone wrong himself. Whether or not you have seen the film, I think you can guess which course of action Batman decides to take. He sacrifices his own potential for heroism and happiness for the greater good, much like Rick Blaine does when he lets Ilsa go.

Rick Blaine and Bruce Wayne may not have much else in common, but they are both prime examples of sacrificing things--women, reputation, maybe even life--to further the greater good. They both understand that not everyone gets to be the poster boy for the side of right and that in any battle, against the Nazis or against madmen in clown makeup, someone is going to get dirty. This requires a sacrifice which is, in the end, supremely cool.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent reflection on the film. I think you're right to ask what everyone took for granted - I think it's at least fair to say that what was between them was possibly only temporary, seeing how it turned out. Were the emotions between them real, or an ill-fated fling on the edge of war?

    Good example with Batman, but do you have any other contemporary examples?