CASABLANCA AND THE UNLIKELY HERO.
Homo Sapiens are creatures of perspective. It is our very nature to interact with the world around us in a manner which is framed by a single mind and body. This individual point of view is, however, not uninformed by our various cultures and social constructs leading to a type of common human experience which the great Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung called the collective unconscious. The archetypal characters in human stories over thousands of years contain striking similarities, and these archetypes are excellent tools for storytellers to use while crafting their tales. One such tale has routinely been held up as a paragon of the modern era’s prolific storytelling format, the motion picture. That tale is Casablanca. But it is the opinion of this writer that the endearing nature of Casablanca comes not from the stereotypical employment of archetypical characters, rather from the use of complex and surprising embodiments of Jung’s archetypes.
The world of Casablanca has a lot going for it from a screenplay standpoint. A quickly escalating world war, a setting that is a crossroads for many different cultures, locations that are exotic to the target audience, not to mention a heroic protagonist and exceptionally beautiful leading female are just some of the assets this film contains. The screenwriters crafted a cast of characters that on their surface function as an almost stereotypical cast for Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey while simultaneously adding complexity to these same characters that lead to an especially satisfying story. While one could explore Casablanca in a 1 to 1 way, equating characters to Jung and Campbell’s archetypes, I believe the magic of the film lies in the fact that the ensemble together evoke the entire pantheon of archetypes.
Campbell’s idea of the Hero is played out not by a single leading character but by multiple characters who have journeys of their own. Bogart’s “Rick” is the surface level Hero, overcoming his cynical mask to ultimately sacrifice his love for Ilsa for the greater good of the war effort. Victor Lazlow’s direct involvement in the underground resistance movement to fight the invading Germans and his sacrifice of self for the greater good is arguably the most heroic element of the film. Yet neither of these heroic characters fully embody The Hero as Campbell describes it. Rick is uninterested in the general comings and goings of the society around him, content to exist as an independant island in a sea of troubles, it is not until the climax of the film that Rick takes action that leads to his selfsacrifice. Furthermore, this sacrifice does not lead Rick to a return to an ordinary world, rather he continues along a recurring journey at the end of the film. Likewise, Victor’s journey, insofar as this film is concerned, neither involves a sacrifice or a return to ordinary world. Victor is certainly on a journey that would involve Campbell’s archetypes but that journey takes place outside the confines of Casablanca.
It is not until the character of Captain Renault is examined that Casablanca’s deeper exploration of The Hero is revealed. The French Captain is an enigmatic character who “works both sides of the street” as it were. As an audience we are never exactly certain how to feel about Renault as he is both a friend to Rick and a corrupt chief of police who uses his office to sexually blackmail young women. This double nature of Renault is an atypical way of expressing a Heroic character, yet it’s this fact that I find most convincing for the argument that Renault is the more fully rendered Hero of the film. The fact that Rick was given all of the great lines and closeups shared with Ilsa does not change the fact the Renault is the character who changed the most over the course of the film, sacrificed the most, and returned to his ordinary world.
The history that we know of Louis Renault is