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Lepkowsky, C., Berkowitz, S. (1983). Play It Again, Sigmund. Psychoanal. Rev., 70(4):621-624.

(1983). Psychoanalytic Review, 70(4):621-624

Films

Play It Again, Sigmund

Review by:
Charles Lepkowsky

Sheldon Berkowitz

Casablanca1 has long been recognized as a film classic. It is universally popular, and is considered by many to be the most technically correct motion picture ever made. Certainly, the plot is clever and the dialogue witty; the character development progresses smoothly and consistently; and each scene is artfully directed and leads into the next, so that the film's tension builds gradually and reaches its peak during the final scene. Nothing is wasted, no gesture is made nor word spoken that fails to enrich a character's personality or thicken the plot.

Yet Casablanca's appeal extends beyond its technical virtues in a way that cannot adequately be explained by the complex story line or the quality of the production. Indeed, much of the black and white film's technique and characterization is dated and stereotypical, and the story itself fails to meet the standards for a traditional Hollywood happy ending: the hero not only doesn't get the girl, but ends up as a fugitive in the bargain. Nonetheless, the audience is left feeling victorious, warm, and satisfied at the film's conclusion.

This reaction cannot be attributed simply to the patriotic fervor generated at the story's end, which is clearly dated and in some ways incomprehensible to a new generation of young viewers. Youthful audiences not only enjoy Casablanca, but more importantly, are affected by it in much the same way as was the audience that first saw it in 1943. It is in this emotionally arousing way that Casablanca is “timeless.”

What is proposed here is that the inherent, emotionally satisfying nature of Casablanca derives in analytic terms from its success in dramatically recapitulating the resolution of the oedipal complex. The primary character Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is the oedipal figure in the drama, and it is with him that the audience identifies. When we first meet Rick he is cynical, self-serving, politically unaffiliated, and tough. Although he is capable of forming object relations, these are negatively valenced, characterized by pushing-away rather than moving-towards, and leading to disconnectedness. One of Rick's first actions in the film is to eject from his club a woman whom he has clearly misused. We learn from his conversation and the comments of others that she is but one of many such “discarded” females. Rick denies his

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