Casablanca is an exploration of the universal themes of love and sacrifice, but
when the film was released in 1942, audiences viewed it as a political allegory about
World War II. The film is set in December 1941, the month in which the Japanese
attacked Pearl Harbor. That attack changed the course of American history, awakening
the nation from political neutrality and thrusting it into the midst of World War II.
Casablanca tells the story of a similar, though much smaller, awakening. At the
beginning of the film, Rick is a cynical bar owner in the Moroccan city of Casablanca
who drinks only by himself and doesn't care about politics. By the end of the film, he has
become a self-sacrificing idealist, committed to the anti-Nazi war effort. The event that
prompts this change in Rick is the appearance of Ilsa, his old flame, in Casablanca.
Ilsa's arrival is unexpected and devastating, and it hits Rick just as hard as the
Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor hit America. Once Rick overcomes the initial
pain, his moral sense is reignited. He doesn't get to live happily ever after with Ilsa, but
he accepts the necessity of his sacrifice and the heartbreak that accompanies it. If Ilsa
hadn't reappeared in his life, Rick would still be stuck in a life of bitterness in
Casablanca. Instead, he is reawakened to the world and to himself.
The film’s impact is said to derive from Riefenstahl’s choreography of images and
sounds…the marching of men,the waving of banners,the uniforms,the swastikas,the
overwhelming cheers, and smiling children at the front of the crowds, sparkles in their
eyes as if it was Santa they were seeing. Throughout the film, Riefenstahl constantly
draws attention to the Fürhrer as the saviour of the Germanic people. For many of the
years before Hitler’s election Germany had been in a state of national depression, due
to the loss of World War One and the institutionalisation of the Treaty of Versailles.
Hitler had promised a greater Germany and a more prosperous Germany. Near the start
of the film (45:45-46:24) Riefenstahl captures the clouds with such grace and beauty.
This could be interpreted as Riefenstahl drawing a link between Hitler and God; Hitler
descending from heaven for the saviour of the Germans. Further examples of this are at
(49:25) where Riefenstahl has shots of the statues, the angles of the scene again
convey Hitler as a saviour, a God, a great figure in the German Empire. In the film
Riefenstahl always had the camera aimed up at Adolf Hitler. She rarely filmed Hitler at
head height or from an aerial view. She applied the same concept of “aiming upwards”
to many of the Nazi symbols such as flags, swastikas or eagles. “Triumph of the
Will”was manufactured to give hope to the German people and put faith into the Nazi
rule. The film captured the Nuremberg rally in a light that clouded many peoples proper
opinions. It was a magnificent film, but at the same time an exceptional acquisition for
Nazi propaganda. In...