Greyness and goodness: Casablanca 

Catherine Austin writes for CPX about Christian ideas of sacrifice and Casablanca.

“Of all the gin joints in all the world… she walks into mine”. I recently watched Hollywood classic Casablanca (1942) for the first time. Other than the flood of frequently quoted lines, I was struck by Humphrey Bogart’s character, Rick. Cynical and brooding over Isla, his long-lost Parisian love (“we’ll always have Paris”) Rick opens a bar in Casablanca. Half drunk, he wiles away his life until Isla arrives, husband in tow, fleeing the Nazis. 

The dilemma: Rick must choose between losing Isla again, by helping her and her husband escape, or rekindling their romance and leaving with her himself. Up until the last scene his choice remains uncertain. Will “dreams come true” or love be lost a second time? 

He chooses the latter, sacrificing his happiness for hers. 

This choice – to act in her best interest, rather than his own – is striking because he makes it amid ongoing struggle and doubt. 

Contemporary media often blurs the lines between right and wrong, honour and dishonour, love and selfishness. Think Breaking Bad, Ozark, or Namor in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. These antiheroes (you know it’s a thing when Tay Tay sings about it) dance between heroism and villainy, typifying our culture’s shift from black-and-white morality to the greyness of “you do you”. 

The shift isn’t all bad. Who wants to return to the heroes of the Western: so-called goodies butchering Indigenous populations and treating women like objects? But I wonder if we’ve overcorrected and lost the ability to hold greyness and goodness in tension.  

Jesus cries in Gethsemane, “let this cup pass from me”. Struggle, hardship, and reluctance to do the hard – but right – thing doesn’t blur with goodness, honour, and sacrificial love. Rather, honesty about the struggle brings sacrificial love into sharp relief. 

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