Casablanca and the ‘second chance’.

Shakespeare writes in ‘Much Ado About Nothing”, speaking of the music and it’s power, “Is it not strange that sheep’s guts could hail souls out of men’s bodies?” One could say the same thing about language and story. “Is it not strange that the wind of the lungs and the vibrations of  throat can move us to tears, to anger, to love ?” Or “is it not strange that the combination of sounds into sentences, can move us to hate, to war, to sacrifice or obedience?”

I’m forever awed by the way that narrative can enable us to embody the protagonist’s consciousness , to travel in their shoes, to make us feel their feelings. Their love is our love, their struggle is our struggle, their sacrifice is our sacrifice and their redemption is our redemption.

A story that teaches me a lot about redemption is the 1940s film “Casablanca”.  The story goes like this:

Early in World War II, Rick and Elsa met and fell in love in Paris. Upon the invasion of Paris by the Germans, they planned to run away together, but the night of the rendezvous at the train station, Elsa didn’t turn up, leaving Rick heart broken.

A year later, in a bar in Morocco, Rick has money and influence, but he cannot forget Elsa. Casablanca is an outpost city through which fugitives of war, wealthy Europeans, political players, Jews, can seek visas to escape to the USA.  One day a Czech freedom fighter and political activist, Victor Laslo and his wife come to Casablanca. He is wanted by the Nazi party and desperately needs papers to escape.  When the couple arrive, Rick and Elsa meet again.

When it becomes clear that Rick can help Victor, Elsa declares her love for Rick and tells him the story of how, on the night of their rendezvous, she heard that Victor was alive. He had been arrested and put in a concentration camp but had escaped.  Not knowing how to tell Rick of her husbands’s existence, she decided that disappearing was the kindest act. She bargains with Rick that if she will stay with him in Casablanca, will he set Victor free and send him to the USA.

Rick has two visas – one for him and Elsa. The night of the flight, he takes them both to the airport, and puts both Victor and Elsa on the flight together to the USA.

This story tells me of redemption. In one case, the decision to let Elsa be with her husband is taken from Rick and he is left abandoned. This is a grief he cannot overcome. In the second instance, it is he himself, full with the knowledge of Elsa’s love, that puts them together on the flight to escape. This willing self sacrifice is the way that he can be free of the burden he has carried all the years of her decision to leave. He can show love in the most profound way possible, by sacrificing himself. In giving, he finds healing.

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