Monday, April 23, 2012

Casablanca: Dark Passage To Freedom

"With the coming of the second world war," these opening lines said everything: by the time Michael Curtiz's 1942 drama Casablanca came out in theaters, America had been at war for well over a year, but the world had been at war for several years, and just knowing of the devastation being wrought in Europe and the Pacific was all ready taking its toll on people, as Rick Blaine's dossier attests (Humphrey Bogart in an Oscar winning performance). Like all great narratives, the power of Casablanca rests on two important attributes: location and diametrical oppositions.
Without giving too much away, Casablanca--which means "white house"--is in the desert and we must keep that in mind. Secondly, the dominant characteristics of the major and minor characters, as we shall see, are inverted, from one character to another. Amidst all of this is the ruin of war: the Nazi boast of taking over the world and people's desperate hope they could be stopped. Yet there is still another context to invoke: cinema history. What happens in Casablanca would haunt film makers for years, even a decade, because of Rick (what he had become and why and what he was doing about it) and because of what Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) did, why and how. Casablanca isn't just a love story, it's the story of cinematic revolution and how Hollywood finally came of age to be the sophisticated art form America--and the world--needed it to be and that's why the American Film Institute has placed only one film before it in terms of merit and importance (Citizen Kane).
We know the location of Casablanca is important to the film because the opening titles take place over a map of Africa, then, to make sure we got the point, we are taken on a visual tour of the journey of the refugee trying to get Casablanca and to either North of South America, freedom.
But let's talk about Casablanca itself first, then move onto the story. Casablanca has one of the largest artificial ports in the world, the reason why refugees want to get there; in the film, it's divisions within the society--centered at Rick's Cafe Americain--which pulls back the shadows and sheds light on the larger, more dynamic conflicts: who leaves and who stays in Casablanca, who has hope of leaving and who feeds upon that hope. Casablanca is between the desert and the ocean of salt water, neither capable of sustaining life, and that's where everyone in Casablanca is, too, and the only way to live is to escape.
Opening shot of Casablanca with a distinct line between the city and desert. As the police round up "twice the usual number of suspects," even though they know Ugarte (Peter Lorre) committed the murders, it reminds us of an important fact, one those of us who have seen the 1966 film The Battle Of Algiers, Morocco is under French rule, not native rule, so there is the threat of the Nazi rule on top of the French rule.
When the narrative proper begins, our attention is taken from the total death and destruction of World War II to the murders of two un-named Nazi officers and a couple of pieces of paper. A trait I highly prize in Casablanca is when and how information is conveyed to the audience. It would have been, for example, quite easy for the screen writers to convey all of the importance about the letters of transit when the Nazi officer in the telegraph office receives the wire about the two murders, yet they choose to let the information trickle down to us through various sources, just as information about Rick will trickle down to us. It's probably from the film made the year before that Casablanca stole this writing concept: this is the same trait we see giving Citizen Kane it's push, the reporter researching "Rosebud" has to interview several people, each providing a different bit of information on Kane but no one having the whole story.
Please note, if you will, the zebra-patterned tie the man wears; the zebra pattern symbolizes the animal passions, the appetites. We can deduce, then, because of this tie, that because of the way he and his wife are living in Casablanca, they have, just like a herd of grazing zebra, attracted the attention of a predator, the pick-pocket who is happy to claim victory, "the vulture" himself. The man and woman being robbed is just like the audience, for we have been robbed in not understanding everything that is going to happen in the film, because even as we think we are being given information--as the pickpocket tells the two about the letters of transit--something is going to be taken or kept from us.
When the man with the three-week expired papers runs and is shot down, he dies before a wall mural of the French commander; he's fighting for the French Resistance movement, but he's gunned-down like a criminal anyway. These are the contradictions within the film that make the ending necessary. For example, Renault (Claude Rains) hates the Nazis, but he is willing to follow their orders, even though their orders are criminal, in order to get Rick not to let Victor (Paul Henreid) and Ilsa onto the plane; if Rick followed their orders, he would be gunned down just like this anonymous man, fighting for the French government and world freedom, so, in this sense, we can say we--like Victor Laszlo--all ready know a great deal about Rick Blaine before we meet him.
If we ask ourselves, what, like the dapper couple watching the arrests, is being stolen from us, we don't have long to wonder: the Nazis arrive in Unoccupied France as if they all ready own the place. Don't you think this is odd? Nazis would just walk into an area supposedly at war with them and demand custody over an escaped "convict," Victor and whoever got those letters of transit. Along with the round-up of people the police know have nothing to do with the deaths of the two Nazi officers, we all ready start to get a clear picture of the dark shadows in which "justice" is conducted.
There's really no great mystery about Rick's Cafe: as Renault said, "Everybody comes to Rick's," and the montage of people we see--and despair--lets us know exactly what kind of world Rick has created for himself in Casablanca. Rick's is no "white house," because of the stains of shady deals, dead dreams and the long shadows cast by vultures, Rick's "feeds" and gives "drink" to whatever people bring with them to the Cafe: for one man, it's despair, for another, it's hope (at a price of $15,000 Francs). The first we see of Rick is his hand authorizing a signature for a $1,000 Franc check. He simply writes, "O.K. Rick," and that's all the authority he needs to approve the transaction. Yet there is something else we can glean from this piece of paper: it's December 2.
In less than a week, it would be the one year anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the reason--officially--why America entered World War II. The reason this first act of Rick's we see him making is so important is because it establishes him as an authority figure, someone who holds "jurisdiction" over Rick's the way Renault holds it over Casablanca and, obviously, Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt) holds it over Renault. Renault, letting the audience know that everyone goes to Rick's (even Rick's major rival, Ferrari played by Sidney Greenstreet, goes to Rick's) demonstrates that attraction that someone like Renault and Ugarte (Peter Lorre) have for him: Rick has power and authority because people respect him.
Another great dimension to this shot--the sign of a great director--is Rick playing chess against himself; he's playing the black pieces, but it's white's move. Is this a powerful symbol for the way Rick himself is torn within, two sides fighting each other but it's time for the white piece to "make a move" and keep the black side from winning? The events of the rest of the story answer the question for us. Please note, also, the sophisticated shadowing over Rick's face: his shoulders are partly shadowed, darkened, and parts of his face is as well. This particular attention to the lighting is a key feature picked up by film noir film makers because of its ability to communicate with the audience. So, what does it communicate? No one ever knows which side Rick is going to be on, and we can see that in the light and darkness of the shadows on his shoulders, the conflict of serving himself or a greater cause (and from Renault, we know he usually goes with the underdog).  The shadows across his face might reflect how he thinks, that he's not immune from thinking for himself (taking the letters and running off with Ilsa himself and leaving Victor) but there is, as we know, more and stronger light overtaking the shadows. Lastly, please note the chessboard itself, how it is mostly dark, like his hands. This might refer to the secrecy that Rick will employ towards the end in making it look like he will take the letters for himself (why he sells Rick's and takes care of all the employees), but maybe also to keep that knowledge from himself of what he knows in his heart he will really do.
One could say it's a case of there being too many cooks in the kitchen: with the French, German and Italian forces there, it seems the people of Casablanca turn to the American in his Cafe Americain for impartial justice, which we shall see in action with Ugarte. As Rick sits back and watches his doorman allow or deny passage to various clients into the gambling room, Rick doesn't allow the head of the Deutsch Bank to enter because he's most likely a Nazi. This is an interesting set-up: we have a back room with illegal gambling going on, and yet the "criminal," Rick, is kicking out one of the richest and most important men in Germany because, by being a Nazi (or at least a sympathizer, otherwise he would be in jail) that is a worst crime than illegal gambling (more on this below).
Ugarte, played by Peter Lorre. He lights a cigarette and orders a drink, then immediately orders a second drink before he has even started the first... a man of appetites. Since everyone knows Ugarte has the letters, he must have quite a reputation, and we have a bit of light thrown on the situation for us when Ugarte tells Rick that he helps the refugees who can't afford Renault's price. This seems to establish some unsavory business competition between the two, and perhaps a reason for Renault really wanting to get Ugarte out of the picture. By the way, "Ugarte" is Spanish for "river water," and suggests the way he helps ferry refugees across the ocean.
What is the exchange between Rick and Ugarte? If I may, and this is just an opinion, but I think the great discrepancy between Rick's and Ugarte's masculinity is revelatory of how Rick feels when he's in the presence of Victor. Rick calls Ugarte a cut-rate parasite, and that might be how Rick feels (since he was paid to run guns and fight with the Loyalists in Spain) compared to the sacrificial and dangerous work Victor has done from his own heart and beliefs. This is important becomes it comes down to a question of masculinity and whether Rick gives up Ilsa to Victor because Victor is really the alpha male and, since Victor's the better man, Rick knows Ilsa belongs with her for that reason. Just a possibility.
When Ilsa calls for Sam to come over to her, he brings the piano (and therefore, the letters) with him and the physical connection between Ilsa, the piano and the letters is constant throughout the film.
First of all, why does Rick take the papers, then, why does he hide them under Sam's piano music? Rick tells Ugarte he heard a rumor that it was the two murdered Nazis who were carrying those letters of transit, so Rick knows they are tainted. Just as Ugarte tells Rick that it's perhaps because Rick despises him so much that he trusts Rick with the papers, and maybe it's because Rick is so mean to Ugarte and Ugarte still comes around that Rick is willing to hold the papers. But once he has the papers, he seems to want to get rid of them, hence, a part of the reason for hiding them under Sam's piano music, but also because Sam's piano is a link with Ilsa. I know, I know, she hasn't even shown up yet, and Rick has no way of knowing that she will in the next few minutes, yet this is art, and in art, things happen in a way they don't in real life.
Why does Ferrari offer to buy the Cafe from Rick? Rick, being a better person than Ferrari, has made a better Cafe than Ferrari's Blue Parrot, and men of appetites like Ferrari always want what better men than themselves have built precisely because they are better men. The scene, however, also demonstrates that Rick doesn't consider human life to be cheap: when he allows the law to take Ugarte away, it's because it's an act of justice. Not "buying or selling human beings" is a way of saying that Rick wouldn't shot someone just to shot them.
When Rick goes over to the bar and Sascha tells him about the Nazi check, Rick tears it up; why? It's okay to let the underdogs in a war pay him for his services, and the Nazis might be able to force him to serve them in his Cafe, but he can make the defiant act of not taking their money and licking their boots. Just as he's doing this, we meet his girlfriend, Yvonne. So we see, again, that Rick wants nothing to do with the Nazis nor does he want anything to do with women. Now we have been thoroughly educated on what type of man Rick is in almost every situation, so the conflict can begin.
Sascha giving Yvonne a drink from "boss' private stock" is also Sascha taking a sip from the boss' private stock, Yvonne herself. Yvonne is meant to be the opposite of Ilsa and we know that instinctively, yet it's more difficult to pinpoint their exact opposites. Whereas Ilsa left Rick, Yvonne wants Rick to come to her. Yvonne throws herself at men but men throw themselves at Ilsa. By the way Yvonne drinks, we know--like everyone else in Casablanca--that she's a woman of the appetites but Ilsa loves with her heart, not with her needs the way Yvonne wants Rick's love to fill her needs. Whereas Ilsa rebels over the Nazi takeover, Yvonne rebels at Rick not paying attention to her. When Rick puts Yvonne in the cab and tells Sascha to take her home but come right back, Sascha doesn't come back. We might say it's a case of inciting Yvonne to revolt against him again, that if Rick wants Sascha to come back, Yvonne will keep Sascha with her, and possibly change her interest from Rick to him.
When Renault talks to Rick, he tells Rick that he shouldn't be throwing women away, they may be scarce someday, and Renault treating women like commodities is exactly what Renault does to everyone: they either advance him or hinder his advancement. Renault is an interesting character against Rick: whereas Rick seems very cynical (at least on the outside until we see him in his flashback to Paris with Ilsa) Renault seems to be romantic, even sentimental, however, we will see that the exact opposite is true when we get down inside both men. Rick will be the romantic, Renault will be the cynic. At the end of the film, when they have decided to become friends, it's a good thing for Rick because he won't hide in his shell again like he did at the Cafe, and Renault will turn more honest.
When the plane flies overhead, and Renault asks Rick if he would like to be on it, Rick plays dumb and asks what is in Lisbon. Careful scrutiny of Rick's face as the plane flies over them reveals the pain and wish to be on that plane and go. Why doesn't Rick go home? Stealing the church funds, a senator's wife and killing a man are the three possible reasons Renault lists for Rick not returning home and Rick says it's a combination of all three. Since the film provides only generalities, it's an invitation to take a more symbolic approach to Rick's life prior to residing in Casablanca. It could be that Rick had to leave America--like so many men--because of the bombing of Pearl Harbor,when men raced to enlist and fight for the Allied forces. Renault's reference to church funds probably refers to a lack of faith in God; the senator's wife refers to America (a senator is supposed to be married to the country he serves) and the death of the man is Rick himself (please think of Moses killing the Egyptian before being exiled). The bombing of Pearl Harbor was the worst thing that had happened on American soil (and wouldn't be rivaled in terms of trauma until 9/11). PERHAPS Rick not being able to go back to America resonated with audiences because the men over seas couldn't go back, either, because they were committed to a cause to win the war, but a war they didn't start, and that is the possible the magic ingredient in the film.
After putting Yvonne into the cab, Rick lights a cigarette and the search light glares over his face; just like the search light, the audience is searching for something in Rick that we can like and identify with, and this next conversation will provide it for us. When Rick says he came to Casablanca for his health, for the waters, and Renault reminds him they are in the desert, Rick isn't talking about H2O, he's talking about his health, but he's talking about the waters of forgetfulness, that is, the waters to help him forget the loss of Ilsa. The next instance demonstrates the depth of Rick's pain.
It's important that we never see Renault out of his uniform.
Emil comes up to Rick and says someone just won $20,000 Francs; Rick is hardly phased by it. This is important because this concept is repeated in Out Of the Past when Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) doesn't care that Kathy stole $40,000 from him, he just wants her back. The scene intentionally sets up for us one, that Rick is good to his employees, two, that it takes something really really really serious to upset him and three, that Rick is probably stacking the odds against the illegal gamblers and that's why Rick tells Emil, "Mistakes happen." (For more on Out Of the Past, please see Build My Gallows High: Out Of the Past).
The cinematography of this sequence is really important because Rick and Renault have moved from the darkness of the exterior of the Cafe (symbolizing their own exteriors, or social masks) to the interior of the Cafe where there is light and Renault talks about the arrest of Ugarte. Interestingly, Emil, standing right behind them and listening into the conversation, looks towards the gambling room when Renault starts to speak, as if Emil knows who the murderer is (Renault earlier had said everyone did) and thinks of warning him himself. Emil obviously doesn't do this, but just as Emil is thinking about it in the background, Rick must have been thinking about it in the background as well.
As Renault and Rick walk through the Cafe, they see the Frenchman and Italian conversing; their conversation in a foreign language is no different than the film itself for the viewer. The dialogue of the film is going on in a language we think we know, but what they are really saying is as foreign to us as the conversation of the Italian and Frenchman.
Renault and Rick go up the stairs (yes, a higher plane of consciousness) and into Rick's office, an inner, intimate space and Rick is opening up "the vault" where he keeps his valuables. When Renault starts talking about why he permits Rick's to stay open, Rick mentions allowing Renault to win at roulette. Again, this is an indictment of corruption on Rick's part, cheating at illegal gambling. After Renault mentions Victor Laszlo's name, and Rick is very impressed, Rick goes over to his terrace and opens a the shutter, a sign that he's taking in what Renault is telling him and reflecting upon it. The bet Rick makes with Renault isn't really a bet, but an act of hope, and that's why it's so important that Rick makes it, plus, it rather substantiates my theory about why Rick lost the $20,000 and it being tied to Ilsa, Rick wants to make it back by a gamble on Victor.
Renault's talking about an important arrest amusing Rick's customers isn't Renault's real motivation for doing it there; Renault wants to impress Rick. Why? Given the high estimation of Rick by everyone, Renault not only wants to know that Rick is "on his side," (not likely to happen) but Renault also wants someone that he can genuinely (as much as that's possible for Renault) be friends with. But then they are going up the stairs and the conversation turns to Victor. The rest of the conversation will be discussed below.
Even though Ugarte is captured, he doesn't tell Renault that Rick has the valuable letters of transit, which is really a noble thing on Ugarte's part, because it could have meant a lighter sentence, but Ugarte probably knew they would kill him anyway, which means that he made a gift out of the letters to Rick.
The time comes to arrest Ugarte. Should Rick have warned him? Is this a case of Rick "not sticking his neck out for nobody?" Rick tells Ugarte that he can't hide, he's surrounded, yet Rick will hide Laszlo later in the film. What Rick is talking about is Ugarte hiding from the hand of justice because Ugarte committed those murders (or had someone do it) and for that Ugarte has to pay the price instead of receiving the price for the letters; Ugarte didn't show the Nazi couriers any mercy, none will be shown to him. Is Rick wanting to keep the letters for himself? Remember just a moment before when Rick walked past Sam playing the piano? He patted Sam on the arm but didn't even so much as glance towards the letters' hiding place to insure they were still there and safe. No, Rick would have behaved the same way, regardless of the letters.
After arresting Ugarte, Rick is questioned by Major Strasser. Rick tries to be diplomatic, but still smug, and what's important is Renault's involvement, as if he's covering for Rick and trying to make him completely neutral. Strasser provides us with interesting information that we will not get to know completely, but the big question in this scene is, why does Rick say, "Are my eyes really brown?" Is he being smug? No, humble. Brown is the color of dirt, and while it can refer to someone "dirty," it can also be taken as someone who considers themselves "low as the dirt," i.e., humble. When does Rick do this? At the end with Ilsa: "Two people's problems don't amount to a hill of beans," in a world where everything is falling apart, and Rick's eyes being brown symbolizes that he sees the world through humility.
When Ilsa and Victor walk through the door and towards their table, the same moment Sam's and Ilsa's eyes meet is the same moment she passes the letters of transit on Sam's piano. This is an important moment that has everything to do with how the film ends.
When Berger comes and approaches Victor, he lifts up the top of his ring to reveal the Cross of Lorraine, their symbol. The unique design was carried by the French into the Crusades and is probably the reason it was resurrected for this scene, the Crusade for freedom. What we discover is, while Victor and Ilsa are married, no one knows it, so there is no "ring" between Victor and Ilsa, but there is a ring between him and the cause for freedom.
Renault might be employing the philosophy, "You attract more flies with honey than with vinegar," in his graciousness with Victor and Ilsa. Talking about being in love with Rick himself, is that to insinuate homosexuality? No, the exact opposite. As the prefect of police, Renault means that Rick Blaine is everything a man should be, or at least, everything a man thinks he should be to a woman. When Strasser arrives, Victor returns the compliments by invoking Renault's authority over him in rebellion of any perceived authority by Strasser. This simple recognition not only slaps Strasser in the face, but ingratiates him with Renault.
Regrettably, I don't know what she's singing, but it is obviously a love song, coming on at just the moment when Ilsa is both worried for Victor and (inevitably) thinking about Rick and how they were in Paris. Like the Italian and Frenchmen earlier speaking in a different language, the song means to let us know that things are being said that we won't understand or catch, we will push them to the margins and forget about them.
As Victor goes off to meet with his true love, the resistance movement (embodied by Berger), Ilsa goes searching for Rick and Sam in her mind. Sam, in the shadows behind the woman singing, looks around, knowing that's Miss Lund, and Ilsa clearly sees him. The two have very different memories of each other. Sam is remembering all the bad things that happened because, you might say, he had to nurse Rick back from death of heart break over losing Ilsa as Ilsa was nursing Victor back from death of the concentration camp.
Sam takes a sheet of music and Ilsa, wanting to remember good things (because that was a happy time for her) asks Sam to play As Time Goes By so she can remember the love she and Rick shared. Sam knows not to play it because to Rick, it's a memory of what he lost. Is Ilsa being selfish? No, because Rick did the worst thing he possibly could have done: he buried her alive within him, and all night long in the cafe, we have been seeing the results of it. Unless Rick un-buries her and sets her free, he will never be free himself. This is the power of art, that all their memories could so easily be unleashed by the mere humming of words, a few notes and listening.
This may be Ingrid Bergman's greatest moment in film, the camera just sitting on her as the words and music unleashes the memories of her own pain and sacrifice It's a tribute to director Curtiz that he had the courage to leave the camera stationary on her for so long, because that's usually avoided in film, but this is the only real moment that we, the audience, has with Ilsa, and
When Rick steps out of his office and hears the familiar notes that threaten to open the "vault" and steal all his savings, he storms over to Sam and using a harsh tone, says, "I thought I told you never to play--" and with the direction of their eyes, the law that had been laid down is now undermined.
Rick giving Sam the evil eye as he looks up and sees Ilsa. Please note, Sam's stack of music is towards Ilsa, the letters of transit underneath the sheets still.
This scene is perhaps the most brutal thing that can happen to a man and he still lives. Renault, without realizing what he's saying, tells Ilsa, "Rick's becoming quite human, I suppose we have you to thank for that," but Renault has hit upon the key: the inhuman, cynical emotions Rick has shown all night long is attributed to the sudden loss of Ilsa from his life, from his future. Now we can understand why Rick doesn't drink with the customers: they are his customers, not his friends, and one goes out to drink and have a good time with your friends, but Rick doesn't have any friends, until Ilsa, his love, reappears. Why does Rick take the check? He's been paying for this meeting for more than a year now, and Rick knows it, and Ilsa knows it.
When Ilsa and Victor are going outside, Victor asks what sort of man Rick is and Ilsa replies that she doesn't know. I don't think she's lying to protect either one of them, with Rick, she might have been in love with him, but that doesn't mean she really knew what kind of man he is the way she knows Victor. In Paris they said "No questions," and while the Nazis know what Rick was doing in Paris, Ilsa probably didn't.
Well, as Rick said he had come to Casablanca for the waters, for his health, we can see that the waters of forgetfulness weren't strong enough and whiskey is needed instead. Rick says, "They grab Ugarte and then she walks in. That's the way it goes. One in, one out." This is the only moment that we see Rick show remorse for the lost Ugarte, but as of yet, Rick still hasn't remembered the letters of transit. The problem with Rick's line of thinking, "One in, one out," and Rick knows it, is that Ilsa isn't "in" because she's on her way out, and that's the main reason he's getting drunk, to prepare himself to lose her again.
Note, please, the piano and where Ilsa stands, the same point in relation to where Rick hid the letters of transit from Ugarte under the sheet music atop Sam's piano.
We find out that there is a "price on his head," and that Rick has a record, but we don't know for what; does it matter? It tells us, in Rick's own words, that he's on "their roll of honor," which means he does fight for the underdog as Renault suggested. Why doesn't Ilsa just tell Rick what has happened? For two reasons, at least: one, she doesn't want Rick to stay or do something that would get him captured; two, it's positive they were having a sexual relationship which of course would be adultery for Ilsa, although she genuinely believed her husband to be dead. I don't think it was so much to protect herself as to save Rick the embarrassment of explaining to him that she thought she was a widow but isn't.
A bit of a continuity issue: it's raining in this part of the scene, but in the next shot, when Rick and Sam get on the train, it's dry, even his coat is dry.... Or is it a continuity issue? Curtiz is a superior director, and that obvious of a transition must have been done intentionally to show how, when he's reading the letter, Rick is "all washed up," but he's such a hardened man that by the time he turns around and boards the train, he's dried out his tears (throwing the paper away like he perceives she has done to him). This "dryness" may be the reason why he decided to stay in the dry desert of Casablanca. Then again, the narrator at the start gave us the route of refugees, and them ending up in Casablanca. Perhaps he thought to stay there in hopes of them meeting again?
This piece of paper mirrors the letters of transit the action sequence is all about, because this letter from Ilsa kills both her to have to write it and Rick to have to read it, and the letter sends them in opposite directions from each other. Just as no one can even question the letters of transit, so Rick isn't allowed to question why Ilsa isn't going with him.
"Richard, I cannot go with you or ever see you again. You must not ask why. Just believe that I love you. Go, my darling, and God bless you. Ilsa."
When the flashback ends and Rick is back at the Cafe, his hand knocks over the glass just as Ilsa's did in Paris when he kissed her for the last time. The arms symbolize strength, and Ilsa's arm going limp when she knew she would have to leave Rick is the same as Rick's arm going limp now knowing another man has her and he's going to lose her again; the strength is all gone.
Women wear scarves around their head to keep their hair from blowing in the wind. Ilsa has put this one on knowing she's going to see Rick and the "wind" of her emotions will be blowing, and so she has to keep her thoughts straight, but she didn't count on him being drunk.
As Ilsa walks in, Rick is probably feeling both joy to see her, for her to come means she still loves him, but pain because he doesn't have her. Let's note her clothes. The white she wears contrasts with the "white" of Casablanca. Everyone in Casablanca is the white of death, the white of a decomposing corpse because they are dead in despair, corruption or some other sin. Ilsa is alive with hope, the white of innocence that still believes in Victor's work. Rick's white dinner jacket puts him in the category of those who are dead and we can say this with confidence because Renault commented just hours before how human Rick was starting to act. Why is he so rude to her? When someone has hurt us, hurting them back to an equal (or even greater degree) is the only chance we have of both communicating what they have done to us and trying to relieve our own pain (which never works).
A scar always means that a person has a "scar" on their soul, some experience has scarred them and causes them act or not to act in certain ways. Victor's time in the concentration camp validates that, but what about Rick's scar, the scar Ilsa left upon him that no one sees?
Victor has an interesting conversation with Strasser and Renault; when Strasser tempts Victor with supplying the names of the underground leaders, Renault chimes in about "having the honor of serving the Third Reich," and we know that's facetious because just seconds before Renault had bragged about marching on Berlin in 1918. Renault seems again to protect Victor when he lets Victor in on Ugarte's death and them trying to decide between "suicide or escape," to let Victor know no one can be trusted, including Renault. But the big point of this conversation is Strasser telling Victor that Victor is irreplaceable to the underground movement; why? Adolf Hitler was irreplaceable to the Third Reich; whereas someone would have risen up to take Victor's place out of necessity, no one could have continued leading the Reich with Hitler's demise.
When Rick meets Ilsa in the marketplace, going over the lace, the lace symbolizes the "cover" that Rick is trying to put on himself for how he had treated Ilsa the night before (blaming it on the bourbon and trying to not be destructive and weak-kneed there). As Ilsa holds the lace, it covers her hands, her strength: she's being gentle with Rick in a way he wasn't with her.
The previous day, Ilsa wore all white, and now, the stripes underneath are starting to show "underneath" the skin and the darkness lurking there. The gloves on her hand show for us how she's still "hiding" something from Rick. Rick putting both his thumbs in his pants like that is a sexual gesture and, coupled with his invitation for Ilsa to come up and see him some night, is meant to remind her of the intimate moments they have shared and how he's hoping they can have them again.
Why does Rick help out Jan and Anninia? To save his own life. This is the reason why God permits bad things to happen to good people, and why none of us can be above accepting charity, because charity is love, the deepest kind, and by helping out these two young kids fulfilling their dreams, by doing what he can do, Rick saves himself from the cancer eating away at him. He doesn't do it to get back at Renault for anything, only to save both of them from the pain and anguish his life without Ilsa had become. Spreading love thusly, helps out not only those in need, but prevented Renault from committing that sin AND brought happiness to Carl and Sascha. Yea, that was a great thing and each of us in our own ways, every day, are called to do the same.
The situation she brings to him is the exact opposite of what will happen to Ilsa, she will be the one, like Anninia, to be confronted with sleeping with Rick to get the letters of transit for her and Victor, and seeing what kind of man Renault is for doing this to a married woman makes Rick realize that he doesn't want to be that way and it shows his respect for marriage.
The scene where Rick and Victor talk in Rick's office is an interesting one, and previously I cited it as the only flaw in the film, and I was wrong to do so. There is a lot of information we don't know about Rick and yet the writers chose to have Victor repeat something we all ready do know; why? This moment of redundancy, making Victor look like a "Johnny come late," is meant to help us not like him, to show a human side to him; Victor could have busted quite a bit on us, all the things Rick did in Paris and even before, but this moment of insufficiency, so to speak, prepares us for the heroism of the next scene. 
Just after this scene, Major Strasser has a great idea: he confronts Ilsa with the danger Victor is in and gets her to worrying about him, knowing that her emotions in the equation may influence Victor.
Why is this scene so important? We have heard about Victor the great, and now we have seen Victor the great, step up and know exactly what to do when no one else did and no one else had the courage. The scene also demonstrates the power of art to express what we feel, believe, know. This scene wouldn't be as powerful without As Time Goes By playing in the background of Ilsa's and Rick's affair, but because of the superb crafting and pacing of the story, the songs work well with each in the film and for the audience.
From the dark stripes to the paisley design, the swirls of the shirt lets us know that is exactly what Ilsa's thoughts and emotions are doing inside her.
Rick had a good strategy, too. "Ask your wife," because no one knew they were married. So why does Rick want Victor to know these things, to know that Rick knows? Revenge. Rick is in pain and he wants to make them both suffer, but to be in pain is human, and just as Victor not being able to tell us anything new about Rick kinda made Victor look bad, so Rick taking shots at Victor makes Rick look bad. But it's really not how we act when we are down, it's to the heights that we are able to raise up, and if we didn't see a fragile, hurt side in Rick, we wouldn't be able to believe the sacrifice he makes at the end.
Ilsa trying to get the letters from Rick has a great deal of truth, that is, the part about her love for him. Without intending to, she tells us something very important when she and Victor are at Ferrari's trying to get the visas, and she mentions Victor having stayed with her while she was sick for two weeks at Marseilles. Marseilles would have been the first stop outside of Paris and not being able to bear being away from Rick, she fell deathly ill (at least ill enough that even with the Nazis coming for them she couldn't be moved).
We can skip some of this because the whole show has been building up to it, but one little moment is when we get to the airport and a man is talking about the weather conditions: "Visibility one and one half miles. Light ground fog. Depth of fog approximately 500. Ceiling unlimited." The problems with fog and visibility reflects how, once Rick gets everyone to the airport, he can't foresee what will happen because of the fog's depth, but because the ceiling is unlimited, so is Rick and his heroism in this moment.
We know that Rick had a perfectly good plan for escaping with Ilsa, so why does he help Victor to go with her? Free will. When Rick left Paris without Ilsa, he didn't have any choice in the matter, now, Ilsa leaving without him, he does. Free will, it has been said by the saints, is God's great gift to us, because even though we often use it to abuse ourselves, when we use it to do the right thing, we gain glory by it, for ourselves and for God. The film has set up an important precedent for Americans during World War II; what was it?
What exactly does Ilsa symbolize? The reason America was founded, the reason why the resistance fought on in Europe against the Nazis: freedom and love and hope. It wasn't in Paris (the French Revolution) where they fell in love, it was at Plymouth Rock, it was in Jamestown, in Bunker Hill, Concord, one European refugee at a time, and being in the European war helped Americans to remember who they were and why they were fighting, even if Pearl Harbor wasn't the way to enter the war. Victor tells Rick, "Welcome back to the fight," and it's meaning, "Welcome to the second World War," because that's what we stand for and great art like Casablanca can remind us of that.
America didn't have a choice about getting into World War II; Casablanca is meant as a catharsis that, if there had been a choice, we would have entered, sooner or later, and that catharsis is the free will of the country. Remember, these events take place between December 2-5, just days before the anniversary of Pearl Harbor when Americans would be remembering how we lost our soldiers and got into the war. Rick tells Ilsa, "I have a job, too. And where I'm going, you can't follow. What I've got to do you can't be a part of," which is what Christ told his disciples before the Passion. Remember, in that first letter Ilsa gave to Rick, she said, "God bless you"; in the letters Rick gives to Ilsa, she says again, God bless you.
The influences of Rick Blaine on future film noir characters could be said to stem from the inner battle between good and evil, the chess game with one's self. In films such as Out Of the Past, the hero doesn't make it to being a hero, the way Rick does (and Rick's actions are so heroic, it even inspires Renault to become a hero, too). In Out Of the Past, he's so tainted that he just can't clean himself to bring off the conversion required to live (in artistic terms) but Rick was definitely a possibility for that in Casablanca because of all the corruption being bred in his Cafe; as the war dragged on, film makers knew you couldn't be around corruption and sin without it becoming a part of you, and when that happened, you were dead.
Remember that Casablanca is in the desert? As Renault and Rick walk off into the fog, their feet splash through water, meaning, they have both escaped the metaphorical desert of death.
Because of Rick's inner battle, Curtiz's use of light and shadow contributed significantly to the character development of the film, and film noir directors would remember the lessons he taught them and utilize them every chance they could get. But there's another important aspect: the women. We still see the Ilsas in film noir, but mostly it's the Yvonnes, and they are, as Renault put it, "a second front all their own." It's the dark woman that rule the film noir, because if the hero is bad, the heroine is even worse.