There is nothing new that I can honestly add in the praise of arguably one of the greatest films ever made. So in case you have been living under a rock, the Academy Award winning Casablanca (1942) is a story about political espionage and romantic interlude that is set against the backdrop of World War II. It is an exciting story where Humphrey Bogart sets the standard as the tough-minded hero and Ingrid Bergman with her warmth and tenderness. With a host of great supporting actors – Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Paul Henreid, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet – Casablanca doesn’t seem to miss a beat. Though what is most remarkable about the film during the production process was that no one, not even the writers, knew exactly how the film would end. Was Ilsa (Bergman) supposed to stay with her husband or was she supposed to run off with Rick (Bogart)? Spoiler alert! Bogart doesn’t get the girl but everyone can appreciate and identify with Rick and Ilsa’s ill-fated love affair.
There are so many ways of looking at Casablanca and how to describe what is at stake. The late great film critic Roger Ebert arguably best sums up the film and its most iconic moment as a story “…about a man and a woman who are in love, and who sacrifice love for a higher purpose.” That higher purpose involves thwarting all attempts by the Nazis of arresting Ilsa’s husband Victor Laszlo and getting him on a plane to Lisbon to carry on his resistance work.
Despite Ilsa and Rick having reconciled and Ilsa confessing that she still loves him, Rick decides Ilsa is safer leaving with Victor rather than staying behind in an increasingly dangerous Casablanca. For the plan to work Rick misleads Ilsa and double crosses Captain Louis Renault, forcing him to assist Rick in his daring escape plan. At the airport, where our scene in question starts to unfold, we soon discover Rick’s true intentions when he makes Renault fill in the letters of transit for Mr. and Mrs. Victor Laszlo. Ilsa is stunned by Rick’s ruse and objects, but Rick has come to realise that “…it doesn’t take to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” He goes on to explain to Ilsa that for Laszlo to continue to play his important role in the war, he needs Ilsa by his side.
As the gravity of the situation dawns on Ilsa, she begins to cry, but Rick gently lifts her face, looks into her eyes and says “here’s looking at you, kid”. It is here that Ilsa comes to realise that in sacrificing his own happiness for the sake of hers, it is arguably the most romantic thing he could ever do. Importantly I believe Rick is also telling Ilsa that he will always be looking out for her. It’s fair to say neither of them will ever forget one another despite how things had turned out. At least they will always have Paris as Rick reminds Ilsa during their gut wrenching goodbye.
When we look at this next to last scene we realise there was no other way for this film to have ended but on that note. Mind you it’s easy to say that now almost eighty years with hindsight. Moreover, of all the classic dialogue in this film, Bogart’s sharp-witted improvised line ‘here’s looking at you, kid” is arguably its most emotive and beautiful moment. Well, at least I think so.