Self-Sacrifice in ‘Casablanca’: Not Just for the Men

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in an iconic image from 'Casablanca'

But what stands out among all this entertainment, what makes ‘Casablanca’ feel like a better movie than say, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ are the stirring emotions of self-sacrifice. And discussions of the capital-G Greatness of ‘Casablanca’ are often centered on masculine concepts of nobility. Despite all his regular protests that he won’t “stick his neck out,” Rick Does the Right Thing and gives the letters of transit to his love Ilsa and her husband (and major player in the Czech resistance) Victor Laszlo. For the good of the world.

And perhaps as a feminist I should take issue with how Rick appears to decide for Ilsa what she is going to do with her life—where to live, which man to be with. But throughout the movie, Ilsa chooses to be with Laszlo, from abandoning Rick at the train station in Paris to threatening him with a gun to get the letters of transit. Rick’s big speech at the end just reconfirms the rightness of her own decisions.