June 18, 1999

Casablanca and Freud

A Freudian interpretation of Casablanca (1942)

It seems pretty straight forward and may explain why this film has been so popular for so long. Casablanca recreates the oediple triangle in the following way.

Victor Lazlo = Dad. The world leading guy, the only one that impresses Rick (Humphrey Bogart)

Rick = The son. Heavily oediple, drinking too much, cynical, lacklustre, life is meaningless, in the limbo of Cassablanca, still loving mummy, reminiscing about the brief time when he dominated and thought that he had mummy, that idyllic (paris in the spring-) time, permanently in the past. Ilda (Ingrid Bergman) = Mummy, caring loving and torn between two males.

Ilse (Ingrid Bergman) = Mummy, who in Casablanca is torn between her love for two males.

The purloined letter that gets passed around, that eventually reaches its destination, the exit permission to leave Casablanca, that the queen=mummy wants seems to be straight out of Lacan's Poe.

The oediple drama is about the conflict between two males for one woman, a grown man with money work and power, and a woman doting boy. The romance between the boy and the woman takes place in the past, when he was a baby, when he felt as if the woman was his own.

But why has the fact that Casablanca is a modern Oedipus been a secret for so long? I think that in modern society the oedipus taboo is so strong that it turns our stomach. No movie that even smelt faintly of sleeping with mommy would do well at the box office. The secret of Casablanca's success was that, while having most of the elements of an oediple drama, the personality and skill of Humphrey Bogart kept it right out of view.

The character of Rick is not a man but a soppy boy. He does not stand up for people or his country, he drinks mopes over memories of another man's wife. Only the actor Humphrey Bogart managed to pull it off, making this oedipus drama appear as a normal love triangle between "men".

The actor who played Victor Lazlo, Paul Henreid, felt Bogart played his Rick Blaine character as a man who was "like a crybaby" and "sorry for himself." But was that Bogart's fault or the fault of the character? The Rick character was either being narcissistically cynical ("I stick my head out for nobody"), drinking ("What is your nationality?""Alcolholic"), or mooning and reminiscing about Ilse. The role was pathetic and it was only by using someone as hard boiled and cynical as Humphrey that the role did not appear pathetic, unmanly and adolescent. Bogart was manly enough to make the sad, drunk, catty ("I'll have Sam play 'As Time Goes By' I heard it's your favourite song") jilted lover role appear manly.

Apparently Bogart had put conscious effort into making his weak character more manly --

According to http://users.bart.nl/~lester/kultnite/casafilm.html
"From the very start, Bogart had much to say about his part. He found Rick to be weak in character and not very heroic. [That is why he had the scriptwriters put write a second version where he wins back Ilse.] Winning back his old love might add a little glamour to the part. Howard Koch and the Epstein brothers, Julius and Philip, the main screenwriters, added more gumption to Rick's character and more humour to the film but Bogart remained insecure about his part and all through shooting. Mel Baker, one of Bogarts advisors, had told him 'Make sure you stay in one place and have her come to you. Mike ([Director] Michael Curtiz) probably won't notice and if he does, tell him it follows from the script. You have something she wants and so she has to come to you.' Bogart took his advice. To make him look even taller than Bergman, wooden blocks were attached to his shoes."

I think that the actor who played Victor was a bit of a card board cut out; he appeared un-sexy. But the role of this resistance hero is quite sexy. Called an "altruistic type" he sounds un-sexy but he could also be called a fighter or warrior. Perhaps he was fighting for himself. He had some good lines too - "Not even the Nazis can kill that fast". And it was cool and manly they way that he did not get jealous towards Rick, saying "I know what it is like to be lonely" he kissed her and kept her.

Victor was an interested in other things than his wife, but this is the nature of adult men and it is what sets them apart from children who are, or only think they are, interested in mummy. Men and boys are attractive in different ways. It is when one thinks that a hybrid could exist a man-boy (or a mother-wife) that the oediple drama begins.

And a non-hollywood, but Freudian happy end, perhaps - Rick gives up on mummy and sends her off with dad (but he does seem to take up with
a man, rather than cathect or whatever.).

Rick and Victor are twins just as men and boys are twins - twins in the way that both, on their own, do not quite satisfy mother.

Rick is a cynic. He values nothing except himself, Ilse and whisky. He is a boy.

Victor is a man of the world. He loves Ilse very much (he kisses her before she has time to say that she loves him, Rick waits until she says "Kiss me like it were the last time") but he *also* loves his work. Isn't this the dilemma, the reason why men and boys are both attractive to women. Boys are loving sots that love pretty damn wholeheartedly, men are interested in other things, and are attractive precisely for that independence and un-aquirableness.

The end of the film was the end of analysis. Ilse realise that she should go back to *the man* who loved her and his work 50% rather than hang out in limbo land with the romantic cynic. Or think that she might have a sexual relationship with a boy.

Their whole romance was shown only in flashback just after the famous "If she can bear it, so can I! Play it (again Sam)!" scene, as Sam plays "As Time Goes By". I think that the fact that their song was "As Time Goes By" reinforces its nostalgic, 'once upon a time' element. Their romance was in Paris in the spring (according to the script) as the Nazis (and society and growing up?) approaches. In a timeless place (just remember this, a kiss is just a kiss, as time goes by), before the onset of time. This is same place where we all had a love affair with our
mothers, I think.

The Script can be downloaded here - http://users.aol.com/VRV1/script.html

He was a drunk, cynical bar owner in moratorium, in a limbo town. Everybody knew him because he was king limbo, he personified their predicament.

In amongst a film which I find Oediple, I was really surprised to find a purloined letter guiding the action and the power of the personae, in the central space. The exit visas are stolen, first from two Germans and then intercepted in their flight towards the queen (Ilse), by Rick with the help of Renault. Like the hero in Poe, while Rick has the letters he becomes pretty unmanly. He hides the letter in the most obvious place, not the mantel piece but Sam's piano. The letter does not prove the queens infidelity but, conversely, withholding the letter brings the queen's fidelity into doubt. Rick, like poe's purloiner, starts to readdress (one of the) letter to himself (or at least says he will) when he says that he will use one exit visa for himself. The letter eventually reaches its destination. This signifies a cure for rick and everyone else.

If Casablanca was not a myth of some sort then it would not have gone down in history as probably the supreme movie romance and while ...

Cousin Neil, film buff and extremely oedipal in a cute nihilistic way says that "Casablanca" is America before the war, the conflict--Rick (don't get involved) vs Victor (of course get involved).

The reason why I cried when I saw it again on Wednesday was because there is another ahistorical, myth in the plot. We must all give up on that woman that we romanced in Paris, in the middle of a war zone, a war that at the time we could not win. We must take on board the rules of the other, and be a man, and say good bye to the moratoriums, andhoping that kind of wordless love story could ever be again.

Only one thing, there is no analyst, unless Renault is the analyst? After all, he is French.

Posted by timtak at 12:04 AM | Comments (0)