Casablanca is a classical narrative that follows a relatively circular pattern. In the beginning of the movie a narrator gives the viewer background on the German invasion in Europe and the refuge trail out of France. Refugees follow this trail to French Morocco, to the city of Casablanca. While in Casablanca, we are told that the wealthy can buy exit visas to take them to Lisbon, which is the way-point to free America; however, the majority of the refugees in Casablanca who can’t afford these visas end up stuck there and “wait, wait, and wait.”
After the initial narrative the camera cuts to a radio announcer who announces that there has been a murder and someone stole important exit visa documents. He says: “round up all suspicious characters…” the camera cuts back to the town market where the police round up suspects. We then focus on one person who is questioned by police for his papers. When he shows them expired papers he tries to run away, but is promptly shot to death. A few moments later after a funny scene where man warns a couple about suspicious people, and then takes his wallet, we hear the noise of a plane and all people look up to watch a plane landing. This entire first sequence foreshadows the ending of the movie. The end brings us to the airport and a plane taking off (in the beginning a plane lands, in the end it takes off). There is a murder in the end, only this time a bad guy instead of a good guy, and the police chief tells the officers to “round up the usual suspects.” The movie ends with a similar sequence as it began.
A main technique that is used in this film is the use of lighting. The director uses lighting to set many different moods within the movie and also to tell us a story just by using lighting and close-up shots. Many of the initial shots of Rick show half of his face shadowed and half lit. It is like this the first time we see him playing chess by himself. This contrast of light and dark show us Rick’s personality, he is tough and neutral on the outside, yet sentimental and good-hearted on the inside. When Rick is walking outside after he has his bartender take home a woman there is a spotlight that shines on him every few seconds; again, a contrast of light and dark.
The other examples of the use of lighting are the many close-up shots of Ilsa. The lighting is so bright and high-key on her at times that it literally makes her glow. This glow represents love, and the spark that she is to both Rick and Victor Laslow. Laslow finds great incentive for his work through Ilsa, but on the contrary Rick’s light went out when Ilsa stood him up in Paris before he came to Casablanca. The scene when Ilsa asks Sam to play “As Time goes by” is a great example of her “radiance.” The camera does a still close-up for a fairly long time on Ilsa as the song is playing. We can see she is in deep thought and very emotional, all while she is literally glowing form the light shining on her. Then the camera cuts to Rick walking through a door, hearing the music. At first he is in somewhat of a dark area, but when he walks towards Sam the room is brighter right up to where he sees Ilsa once again.
The other main lighting scene is when Rick is in the dark after hours trying to drink away his repressed feelings of Ilsa after seeing her again. The room and lighting is very dark, low-key lighting, representing Rick’s mood and telling the story of his feelings. Ilsa was his light and without her there is darkness.
The last scene at the airport is the “grey area” and climax of the film. Heavy fog shrouds the area. It is neither dark nor light, and leads to a surprising end with Rick sacrificing his love for Ilsa for a higher and noble cause. Rick becomes the hero and patriot when he kills the German officer, and he walks off in the fog with the police chief which is the “beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
Casablanca is a great story that employs great techniques and utilizes amazing characters. The drama is mixed with comedy conjures many different emotions. It is a very human film that you can relate to. These attributes work together beautifully to form a remarkably entertaining and unique film that stands the test of time.