The city of Casablanca is a small slice of heaven (or hell for some) nestled right in between a war controlled Europe. While most of the continent is fighting, rationing food, and ultimately doing anything to survive WWII, the people of Casablanca are eating, drinking, and gambling away their time. There is some pieces of WWII present, like the corrupt officials and Nazi leaders deciding who can get in or out, but these same people frequent Rick’s bar just like everyone else we see in Casablanca. The people of Casablanca seem to live behind a veil of alcohol and gambling, masking themselves from the harshness of their past lives as well as from the state of Europe as a whole. Rick especially seems to be just a shell of a man at the beginning of the film, throwing aside the very human emotions of lust and greed by turning down both women and money. In fact, we don’t see any emotion out of Rick until one key event happens: he hears Sam play “As Time Goes By”.
This song is all it takes to turn someone who’s sole identity is a bar owner back into a passionate human being. With a few chords, the veil that Casablanca has placed on Rick is torn off, and he is now seeing nostalgic glimpses of his time in Paris with Ilsa (who’s face is equally as emotionally revealing during this song).
The change that “As Time Goes By” makes on Rick is not just a temporary one. For the remainder of the film, he is a completely different man than the one we are first introduced to. The man that “never drinks with his guests” is now seen in every following bar scene with a cocktail in hand. The previously straight laced, successful Rick eventually finds himself alone in his bar with just Sam, pitifully finishing a bottle off on his own. It’s during this scene that we once again see extreme emotion out of Rick, unsurprisingly after he forces Sam to “play it again”.
The final, and potentially most powerful example of song taking over the people of Casablanca is during the intensely emotional national anthem battle. As soon as Laszlo begins conducting the band to start the French Anthem, people immediately put down their drinks to stand up and join. Gamblers, drunks, Casablancans become the people who they really are when there isn’t a veil over their eyes: sad refugees away from home who still have a sense of nationalistic pride. What reveals this more than the French woman who literally has tears screaming down her eyes as she belts the French anthem?
Everyone in Casablanca has come from a different place. Some are sad, some are only concerned with escaping, and some are just drunk. It is very easy to forget where one has come from in Casablanca with all the distractions it creates. However, there is only one thing that can take the people back to their past and true selves: song.