April 07, 2015

#9: Hero's Call

In this ten-part series I study the screenplay of ‘Casablanca’ by breaking it down to its several aspects. Click here and read from down upward for the entire series.

“Each of us has a destiny, for good or for evil.”

Story Covered in Part 9: Ilsa shares with Rick the complete truth regarding the past. She was really in love with him during their days in Paris when she believed Laszlo to be dead. She did not share with Rick that she was a widow to ensure their safety as Laszlo was an important man. Just before they were to leave Paris, she got the news of Laszlo’s return. She now requests Rick to help Laszlo escape. Rick does not want to lose Ilsa again. She leaves the decision on him. He must decide for both of them. They are interrupted by the arrival of Carl and Laszlo, escaping the police. Rick makes Carl take Ilsa to her hotel room without letting Laszlo know about it. Rick then has another conflicted moment with Laszlo when he gets to know how much Laszlo loves her. He wants Rick to take her away to ensure her safety. A French Officer arrives at this point and arrests Laszlo. Next morning, Rick goes to Renault and reveals that he is about to leave Casablanca with Ilsa. He convinces Renault to frame Laszlo in a better way, so that they have bigger charge against him. The plan is that Rick will arrange for Laszlo to pick up the letters of transit from him, and precisely then Renault will arrest Laszlo. Gaining Renault’s trust Rick goes to meet Laszlo in the lock-up. He then goes to Ferrari and sells his café to him. That night, Renault reaches Rick’s and they wait. Laszlo arrives with Ilsa.

Step Outline:
  • Pg 103-104: Ilsa reveals the complete truth to Rick.
  • Pg 105-106: Carl is back with Laszlo. Rick makes Ilsa leave with Carl.
  • Pg 107-108: Laszlo requests Rick to take Ilsa away, to safety. Laszlo is arrested.
  • Pg 109-111: Rick meets Renault next morning and convinces him of his plan.
  • Pg 112: Rick sells his café to Ferrari
  • Pg 113-114: Rick and Renault wait at Rick’s. Ilsa and Laszlo arrive.
Structure: The slowed rhythm of the seventh part does not affect the film at all. In fact, by taking us away from the main plot during that segment, the writers prepared us for the very thick eighth and ninth parts. The Second Act ends on a high after both Ilsa and Laszlo leave the decision on Rick, and it seems he has made the decision by the time Laszlo is arrested. From page 109, the Final Act begins. Notice that after spending the entire film not knowing the complete truth, Rick is now the only person who knows what is going to happen. The hero has taken over. No other character, and neither the audience knows what he is going to do. There is a plan he has shared with Renault but as the ending will reveal, he is closely guarding his cards. Also, the rhythm of the scenes has prepared us for an exciting climax, emotionally and dramatically.

The Character arc:
  • Rick: Since Ilsa has left the decision on him, and now we know that Rick and Ilsa really want to be with each other, his apparent decision of going away with Ilsa looks kind of fulfilling. But then the film is more than Rick’s desire to have Ilsa. And hence we hope he does something more than that. All our expectations ride on him, our hero. Also, his kindness is further affirmed when he ensures the security of his employees as he sells his café to Ferrari. And, as the final segment will reveal, the sharpness of Rick’s mind is more than impressive, as evident from how he sets up the end as per his own wish.
  • Ilsa: Our expectation is fulfilled. She is a nice woman, in every way. The revelation of truth is extremely fulfilling. And then she surrenders herself to Rick, leaving him to decide for both of them. We love her more than ever. We care for her more than ever.
  • Laszlo: His love for Ilsa is more than we could imagine. He surprises Rick by requesting him to take Ilsa to safety, knowing very well that Rick loves Ilsa. “Apparently you think of me only as the leader of the cause. Well, I am also a human being.” These lines by Laszlo create a more rounded character of Laszlo for us than before, more tender, more relatable.
  • Captain Renault: We were always aware of his soft corner and admiration for Rick. Hence when Rick convinces him so easily, it does not come as a surprise.
Sub-plots: Ferrari’s sub-plot comes to a close, as he gets what he wanted since the very beginning – the ownership of Rick’s Café. Also, with this, all employees at the café get their sub-plots closed, whether they like it or not. Sam, Carl, Sacha and Abdul – all will stay at Rick’s under Ferrari. Rick has ensured their continued employment and has, we assume, raised Sam’s share in the profits from ten to twenty-five per cent – thus closing this sub-lot in somewhat fulfilling manner.

Tools Employed:
  • Control on the rhythm of the screenplay, as mentioned in the structure above.
  • Rising Tension: as mentioned above
  • Use Character Motivation for Plotting: Both Ilsa and Laszlo leave it on Rick to take the final call. With Rick acquiring all the power, all possibilities of the film’s ending are alive, despite ninety per cent of the film being over.
  • Keep the Protagonist Ahead of the Audience: Rick’s entire plan, as revealed since page 109 is, as we realize in the last part, untrue. He has something else in the mind. Also, since his plan involves Laszlo coming to him for the letters of transit, we will never be able to predict the end.
  • Surprise: When Rick reveals to Renault that he has decided to leave Casablanca it comes as a surprise, despite the last night’s events clearly leading us to believe that.
  • Tie the ends logically: Reading Rick’s scene with Renault is a pleasure. Rick has made a fool-proof plan that serves various purposes. It convinces Renault and us of something, while making sure that something exactly different takes place in the end. The writers have not left any room for logical errors. These final lines of this scene prove how much of thinking has gone into it, by Rick, and effectively by the writers: “And by the way, call off your watchdogs when you let him (Laszlo) go. I don’t want them around this afternoon. I’m taking no chances, Louis, not even with you.”
  • Ellipsis: After his conversation with Renault, Rick goes to talk to Laszlo in the lock-up. But we never get to see that scene. It is because we really do not need to see that.
  • Use Conflicted Dialogue to Make the Character’s Internal World Available to the Audience: Thanks to a wonderfully conflicted scene, Laszlo’s lines to Rick sum up the hero’s state of mind, both personal and political. The lines are: “You know how you sound Monsieur Baline? Like a man who’s trying to convince himself of something he doesn’t believe in his heart.”
Standout scene: Ilsa’s revelation of the complete truth to Rick is satisfying at many levels. Craft-wise it works so well because of two reasons: the delayed exposition and fulfilling character-reveal that has made us love all three of them now – Rick, Ilsa, and Laszlo.

What is the audience expecting: The scene with Ferrari further confirms that Rick is leaving. So we do not have any doubts about his intentions. But we are still waiting to be surprised. To be honest, the energy of this segment is dramatically so powerful that we do not have the time to think. We are so damn curious to know the end.

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