Casablanca begins with an info dump bringing the audience up to speed with the events of the Second World War thus far and how the city relates to the plot. This then cuts to an establishing shot of the market in Casablanca and cuts to establish the deeply foreign and somewhat hectic nature of the setting. This mood is further enhanced when the film cuts to scenes of the usual suspects being rounded up by the Vichy police. When the single resistance fighter flees the police, the film cuts to him being shot in front of a propaganda poster of Marshall Petain, the leader of Vichy France. The film further cuts to the fighter’s papers with a prominent Cross of Lorraine, symbol of the Free French movement. This sequence artfully establishes the overarching narrative of the conflict between the Free French and the Nazi’s with their Vichy collaborators.
This narrative is established on a smaller scaled when Ugarte, who is fleeing from the police, grasps Rick and begs for Rick to help him. The shot focuses solely on Ugarte as he is being dragged away, with no cuts to Rick’s face as the action occurs. Rick’s face is only shown with muted expression in reaction shots after Ugarte has been pried away, as if to show his hardhearted indifference. This visually shows Rick’s neutrality and this neutrality is driven home by the line “I stick my neck out for nobody.”
The more literal aspect of Rick’s internal conflict, his romance with Elsa is conveyed through a bit of elliptical editing and some brief scenes in Paris. The early love scenes with Rick and Elsa riding in a car have dissolve transitions, conveying a long passage of time and adding to the slow moving and lighthearted atmosphere of preoccupation Paris. This slow pace gives a sense of the importance of the time spent together. The early shots contrast with quick pace of the cuts and action in the establishing shots of the German invasion when the occupation of Paris is imminent, conveying the urgency of the situation and the shock of Rick and Elsa’s separation.
In Rick and Elsa’s final scene, this lingering conflict is resolved. Whereas Rick and Ugarte had no shot reverse shot dialogue, Elsa and Rick have significant cuts from one another with long close up takes on Elsa’s face to show her reactions as Rick convinces her to leave with Laszlo. Close up shots of Rick’s face are used only when stating particularly impactful lines. Spatially, the two are close, indicating a lingering intimacy between the two. The editing is used to show that Rick has fully taken a side, both literally his personal conflict and in the larger metaphorical conflict as well as to resolve his romance with Elsa.
To drive home the point, the film cuts to Captain Renault commenting on Rick’s choice, eyeline matches him looking at a bottle of “Vichy Water,” cuts back to Renault pondering, and then cuts to the bottle being dropped into the waste basket and Renault kicking the basket over. (starts at 1:06).
How else is Rick a metaphor for the United States pre-Pearl Harbor? How does the film use Rick as a proxy for the conflict between personal wants and duty to a greater cause? How is editing used to convey Rick and Elsa’s reconciliation in Casablanca?