One of my cat nips is when characters in a book or film debate the meaning of another work of art. Think 500 Days of Summer (2009), in which the narrator tells us that Tom misunderstands the ending of The Graduate (1967), while his love interest, Summer, does not. Or Tiffany Reisz’s The Siren in which Nora and Zach tussle over whether O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” is romantic or terrifying. Or KJ Charles’s A Seditious Affair in which Dominic wrestles with the meaning of several William Blake poems, demonstrating that he’s compatible with Silas and that he’s finally gotten over his first love, Richard.
And any conversation about this kind of intertextuality would likely include When Harry Met Sally (1989). In director Rob Reiner and writer Nora Ephron’s friends to lovers romantic comedy, the titular Harry and Sally constantly jaw about pop culture. From board games to journalists, museums to music, the film’s script bursts with the characters’ opinions about other texts. But the reference that comes up multiple times, and reveals the most about the characters, is Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942).
Seven years ago–how is that possible?–I wrote a brief post about Casablanca, one of the primo romantic dramas of the Hollywood studio era. The love triangle between Rick, the cynical saloon owner; Victor, the idealistic resistance organizer; and Ilsa, the woman torn between them, has been endlessly parsed in our living rooms and our pop culture. But–spoiler alert!–while Ilsa might end up with Victor, when Casablanca pops up in other works, it seems like most people are on Rick’s side.
What does the cultural preference for Rick say about us? While there are some structural reasons why people might find Rick more sympathetic, I think the real issue is that American culture has tended to celebrate the kind of hard, cynical, and even cruel masculinity Rick embodies rather than Victor’s restrained, gentle, and more idealistic mode. So I’d like to suggest, as I did on Twitter yesterday, that Ilsa made the right choice and that Victor would be a better and more supportive partner than Rick.Continue reading “Leaving on a Jet Plane”