Comprehensive Storyform

The following analysis reveals a comprehensive look at the Storyform for Casablanca. Unlike most of the analysis found here—which simply lists the unique individual story appreciations—this in-depth study details the actual encoding for each structural item. This also means it has been incorporated into the Dramatica Story Expert application itself as an easily referenced contextual example.

Story Dynamics

8 of the 12 essential questions

Main Character Resolve

Rick changes from self-centered and controlling to emotionally confident and selfless. Early on, he repeatedly emphasizes that:

I stick my neck out for nobody.
But at the moment of truth he risks everything to help Laszlo escape with Ilsa, and takes up his personal fight for what’s right.

Main Character Growth

Rick must start becoming the conscientious man he was in Paris, pick up the fight against the Nazis, and fill the hole in his heart created by Ilsa’s desertion of him.

Main Character Approach

Rick allows his club to be an open house to a wide variety of patrons, from refugees to Nazis to Vichy French. Whichever way the political wind blows, Rick will bend with it. When Ugarte flees his captors in the club and begs Rick for help, Rick adapts to the situation and refuses to comply.

Main Character Mental Sex

A linear thinker, Rick jumps to the conclusion that Ilsa left him in Paris because she loved Laszlo more. When he decides to help Laszlo and Ilsa, he takes a logical series of actions that ensure they will be able to escape without interference from the police or the Nazis.

Story Driver

Ugarte’s decision to entrust Rick with the Letters of Transit makes it difficult for Ilsa and Laszlo to obtain them; Rick’s nod of the head to let the band leader strike up “La Marseillaise” causes Strasser to close the club and threaten Laszlo; Laszlo’s altruistic decision to put Ilsa’s safety before his own impresses Rick so much that he helps the couple escape, putting himself at risk; etc.

Story Limit

After Ugarte’s killed, Laszlo turns down Major Strasser’s offer of visas in exchange for naming other Underground leaders. Ferrari offers a single exit visa, but Ilsa refuses to leave without Victor. Their only remaining option is Ugarte’s Letters of Transit—which are in Rick’s control.

Story Outcome

Laszlo finally escapes Casablanca—with Rick’s help and Ugarte’s Letters of Transit—to continue his freedom fighting, taking the woman he loves with him.

Story Judgment

Rick resolves his bitterness over Ilsa’s leaving him in Paris. He forgives what has happened in the past, opens his heart to love again, and resumes his efforts against fascist oppression.

Overall Story Throughline


Overall Story Throughline

Casablanca is a seething hotbed of activity: Rick tries to peacefully run his nightclub; Renault chases petty crooks and beautiful women; refugees trade their valuables to buy exit visas; Laszlo and Ilsa look for safe passage to America; Strasser works to prevent Laszlo from leaving town; Ugarte thieves and schemes; Ferrari trades on the black market; etc.

Overall Story Concern

The Laszlos and the refugees seek safe passage out of Casablanca; Ferrari wants to buy Rick’s club and Sam’s services; obtaining the Letters of Transit is to be Ugarte’s last big heist before he gets out; Strasser wants to put Laszlo under his thumb, and to capture his couriers’ killer; Renault bargains for sexual favors with women refugees, and always wins at Rick’s casino; etc.

Overall Story Issue

Renault satisfies his ego by bedding women; Strasser has made defeating Laszlo into a personal obsession; Rick repeatedly insists, ” I stick my neck out for nobody;” Ugarte and Ferrari make personal profit by exploiting refugees; Rick wants to keep his club operating without interference:

[...] That is the reason we permit you to remain open.

Oh, I thought it was because I let you win at roulette.

Er, that is another reason…

Overall Story Counterpoint

Laszlo selflessly works for the freedom of others, at great risk to himself from oppressors like Strasser; in Paris, Ilsa abandoned her lover Rick in favor of her brave husband Laszlo, whom she’d thought dead; in Casablanca, she’ll do anything to ensure his work continues.

Overall Story Thematic Conflict
Self-Interest vs.Morality

Ilsa and Laszlo both urge Rick to take the other to freedom, sacrificing their own freedom; falling back in love with Rick, a helpless Ilsa trusts him to do what’s right:

You’ll have to think for both of us, for all of us.

I will.
Touched by the depth of Laszlo’s love and his selflessness, Rick finally sticks his neck out to get Ilsa and Laszlo out of Casablanca.

Overall Story Problem

The residents of Casablanca struggle to free themselves from the control exerted over them by the Nazi Strasser and his dupe, the Vichy collaborator Renault; Strasser comes to Casablanca to regain control of the stolen Letters of Transit, and to regulate Laszlo’s movements.

Overall Story Solution

A condition of uncontrol helps achieve the objective story’s problems: when Major Strasser joins the Nazis singing “Wacht am Rhine,” Laszlo responds by leading the nightclub’s patrons in “La Marseillaise.” A frenzied two-part disharmony ensues as the two songs compete, until the French triumph. Strasser, fearing loss of control of Casablanca, shuts down Rick’s club—pushing Rick toward the side of freedom. In addition, Laszlo’s escape is the ultimate loss of control, especially to a country—America—that represents freedom.

Overall Story Symptom

Casablanca’s residents use avoidance as a means to side-track problems: Ugarte tries to avoid arrest in Rick’s club; Rick avoids getting personally involved in the political fight and the problems of his patrons; Laszlo and Ilsa come to Casablanca to escape the Nazis; Rick came to Casablanca to avoid Paris; Renault avoids taking sides, blowing with the political wind.

Overall Story Response

In an effort to resolve the effects of their problem, Casablanca’s residents engage in pursuit: the refugees go after exit visas; the Laszlos and Strasser pursue the Letters of Transit; the Nazis pursue Laszlo and anyone who opposes them; Renault pursues women; Ferrari goes after Rick’s club and Sam; Ugarte pursues wealth by stealing the Letters of Transit; etc.

Overall Story Catalyst

In Casablanca, the objective characters’ methods of handling problems force the story forward: Rick’s neutral stance leads to Ugarte’s capture and death; Laszlo’s defiant challenge of the Nazis with the singing contest makes Strasser put pressure on him; Strasser’s threatening approach to Laszlo sends Ilsa into Rick’s arms; lovelorn Ilsa acts helpless, throwing herself at Rick’s feet and forcing him to take charge; etc.

Overall Story Inhibitor

A sense of obligation creates problems and slows down progress in the objective story in Casablanca: remembering how Ilsa stood him up in Paris, a vengeful Rick refuses to sell Laszlo the Letters of Transit; Laszlo’s emotional contract with Ilsa leads him to ask Rick to take her to freedom instead, leaving him at risk in Casablanca; Renault’s obligation as a collaborator causes him to tip off Strasser at the airport, endangering the Laszlos’ escape; etc.

Overall Story Benchmark

Major hurdles on the way to the story goal are overcome only when the objective characters reach a greater understanding of what they’re up against: when Laszlo learns of Ugarte’s death, he understands how dangerous Casablanca is for him, and how difficult it’s going to be to get out; lacking information, Rick misunderstands Ilsa’s standing him up in Paris; when Laszlo asks Rick to take his wife to freedom with him, Rick understands that this is a love greater than his own; saying goodbye to Ilsa, Rick comprehends that there are more important causes than romantic love:

Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take
much to see that the problems of three little people
don’t amount to a hill o’ beans in this crazy world.
Someday you’ll understand that.

At the airport, Strasser understands how far Rick’s self-esteem has risen—with a bullet.

Additional Overall Story Information →
Overall Story Throughline Synopsis

In 1941, refugees of war-torn Europe converge on neutral Casablanca seeking exit visas to escape to America. Rick Blaine, a nightclub owner, comes into possession of Letters of Transit that will allow the bearer safe passage. Laszlo, an Underground Leader, needs those letters to escape. Rick refuses to help Laszlo initially, because Laszlo’s wife Ilsa deserted him earlier in Paris. Eventually Rick regains his compassion and tricks Renault, the local Prefect of Police, into helping the Laszlos’ escape to America.

Overall Story Backstory

Casablanca’s writers set the historical backdrop with the opening V.O. narration:

With the coming of the second World War,
many eyes in imprisoned Europe turned hopefully or
desperately toward the freedom of the Americas—
Lisbon became the great embarkation point—
But not everybody could get to Lisbon directly—
and so a tortuous, roundabout refugee trail sprang up—
Paris to Marseilles—across the Mediterranean to Oran—
Then by train—or auto—or foot—across the rim of Africa
to Casablanca in French Morocco. Here—the fortunate
ones through money—or influence—or luck—might obtain
exit visas and scurry to Lisbon—and from Lisbon to
the new world—But the others—wait in Casablanca—
and wait—and wait—and wait—

Main Character Throughline

Rick Blaine — Expatriate Nightclub Owner

Main Character Throughline

Rick has a fixed attitude toward life in general, and women in particular. He is content to hide out in Casablanca, avoiding commitment to anything—particularly another woman who might hurt him the way Ilsa did.

Main Character Concern

Rick’s inner feelings are largely frozen. Until he meets Ilsa again, he’s content to play chess alone, drink alone, rebuff Yvonne when she demands his affections, and simply run his club.

Main Character Issue

Rick hopes to continue operating his club with no political interference, and to be left alone by his customers:

Will you ask Rick if he’ll have a drink with us?

Madame, he never drinks with customers. Never!
I have never seen him.
After Ilsa, he lost hope of ever loving again.

Main Character Counterpoint

With Ilsa’s reappearance, Rick slips into a drunken reverie wherein everything is as it was in Paris; Ilsa offers him the dream of taking up where they left off—all they have to do is both leave Laszlo behind in Casablanca, and go to America (where Rick’s a wanted man) together.

Main Character Thematic Conflict
Hope vs.Dream

Rick’s hopes of an unaltered status quo are shattered by the Laszlos’ arrival and Strasser’s subsequent closing of his club; Victor and Ilsa’s selflessness affect Rick to the point where he can’t bear to part them, thus he gives up his dream of reuniting with her; Rick’s do-gooding and defeat of Strasser offers hope of a free world.

Main Character Problem

Rick creates problems for himself by trying to control all aspects of his life in volatile Casablanca. Since Ilsa’s betrayal in Paris, Rick’s kept his mixed feelings toward her in check, and himself isolated from women: when Yvonne demands affection from him, he sends her home; he controls who gets into the casino and has a policy never to get friendly with his customers; Rick maintains control in his club, breaking up a fight between a German and a Frenchman:

I don’t like disturbances in my place. Either lay off
politics or get out!

Main Character Solution

Ultimately, Rick’s problems are resolved when his life is unregulated. After Rick loses control of his club to Strasser and Renault, he sells it to Ferrari; Rick’s remembering his love affair unleashes the feelings he has tried to control—love and desire—moving him toward the recognition of his love for Ilsa.

Main Character Symptom

Rick is focused on his feelings about events in Casablanca. Rick is angry when he hears Sam playing “As Time Goes By”; he’s resentful when Ilsa first comes to explain why she left him; he empathizes with the newlyweds, letting the husband win at roulette:

As I suspected, you’re a rank sentimentalist.

Yeah? Why?

Why do you interfere with my little romance?

Put it down as a gesture to love.

Main Character Response

Rick takes a series of steps to enact the Laszlos’ elaborate escape plan; he uses logic to persuade Renault to release Laszlo from prison:

Instead of this petty charge you have against him,
you can get something really big, something that
would chuck him in a concentration camp for years.
Be quite a feather in your cap, wouldn’t it?
When Strasser ignores Rick’s linear reasoning:

I would advise you not to interfere.

I was willing to shoot Captain Renault and I’m
willing to shoot you.

Rick demonstrates what a straight-shooter he is.

Main Character Unique Ability

When Ilsa reveals why she left him in Paris, Rick’s finally able to put that painful part of his life behind him and move on to what he’s good at: putting an end to despots like Strasser.

Main Character Critical Flaw

Rick’s assumptions about why Ilsa jilted him cause him to waste his life in suspended animation in Casablanca, when he could have been fighting the Nazi threat; his close mindedness toward her almost results in him denying her (and the Cause) help.

Main Character Benchmark

As Rick grows emotionally, he’s better able to deal with his memories of Paris: when Sam first plays “As Time Goes By”; invoking painful memories, Rick becomes enraged; after he flashes back to being stood up in Paris, he’s rude to Ilsa; as the vestiges of forgotten love and social commitment stir in his soul, he helps the young couple win at roulette; sending Ilsa away, Rick treasures his memories of her:

We’ll always have Paris.

Additional Main Character Information →
Main Character Description

“RICK sitting at the table alone. He just sits staring at the drink. There is no expression in his eyes. He is a complete dead pan. Rick is an American of indeterminate age.”
(Thomas, p. 130.)

Main Character Throughline Synopsis

Rick has retired from the freedom activities that put him on the Nazis’ hit list, and has settled into a life as a nightclub owner in neutral Casablanca. He finds it hard to maintain his neutrality when his ex-lover Ilsa Lund arrives with her Resistance Leader husband Victor Laszlo. Facing his own feelings and truth about the past leads Rick to reject his safe life in Casablanca, help Ilsa and Victor, and continue his personal fight for freedom in a partnership with Renault.

Main Character Backstory

Rick, an American on the lam for an unspecified crime, is unable to return home. In Occupied Europe, he’s known for fighting oppression:
In 1935, you ran guns to Ethiopia. In 1936 you fought
in Spain on the Loyalist side.
We also know what you did in Paris, Mr. Blaine, and
also we know why you left Paris. Don’t worry. We are
not going to broadcast it.

Influence Character Throughline

Ilsa Lund — Laszlo's wife

Influence Character Throughline

Ilsa’s predicament is that she’s committed to Laszlo, but in love with Rick. Rick has the only means to get Laszlo safely out of Casablanca, but he’s not in a giving, or forgiving, mood.

Influence Character Concern

By reinvigorating Rick and showing him there’s something worth living for, Ilsa gives Rick a brighter future; she motivates Rick to send her away in support of Laszlo, continuing their good work together.

Influence Character Issue

In Paris, Ilsa drags her feet over Rick’s plans:

No, no, not my hotel. I, I have things to do in the city
before I leave. I’ll meet you at the station.

All right. At a quarter to five. Say, why don’t we
get married in Marseilles?

Well, I—that’s a little too far ahead to plan—
She puts off telling him her true intentions until Casablanca, where she procrastinates over approaching him for the Letters.

Influence Character Counterpoint

In Paris, Ilsa chose to stay with husband Laszlo rather than leave with Rick; in Casablanca, it’s harder for her to leave Rick a second time, so she asks Rick to make the decision.

Influence Character Thematic Conflict
Delay vs.Choice

When Ilsa finally tells Rick the truth about Paris, she’s unable to choose between her two men again and passes the burden onto Rick—who wastes no time in making the right decision, and stands her up at the airport.

Influence Character Problem

Ilsa’s drive to support Laszlo causes problems for her. Ilsa’s support of Laszlo and his cause made her give up her love for Rick once before; her efforts to get her husband out of Casablanca send her back into Rick’s arms, forcing her to choose again.

Influence Character Solution

Ilsa’s opposition satisfies her emotional problems in the story. Ilsa’s opposition to Rick’s neutrality and rejection of his self-pity forces her to tell him the truth about Paris; her inability to fight the power of his love causes her to relinquish the difficult choice to him:

I know that I’ll never have the strength to leave you
again. [...] I can’t fight it anymore. I ran away from
you once. I can’t do it again. Oh, I don’t know what’s
right any longer.

Influence Character Symptom

Ilsa’s focus on avoidance causes Rick more distress. Ilsa avoids telling Rick the truth in Paris, and dodges him at the train station; although still in love with Rick, Ilsa lets him suffer alone:

Richard, I tried to stay away. I thought I would never
see you again. That you were out of my life.

Influence Character Response

Ilsa’s use of pursuit to solve her problem throws Rick into a quandary. Unable to obtain safe passage through other means, Ilsa comes looking for Rick’s Letters of Transit, but he spitefully refuses; she goes after him again with a gun, finally managing to revive his compassion.

Influence Character Unique Ability

Ilsa’s willingness toward openness forces Rick to re-evaluate his hatred of her and his neutral stance, when she tells him how her receptiveness to Laszlo’s beliefs led her to choose him over Rick in Paris:

It’s about a girl who had just come to Paris from
her home in Oslo. ...she met a man… He opened
up for her a whole beautiful world full of knowledge
and thoughts and ideals. Everything she knew or
ever became was because of him. And she looked
up to him, worshipped him with a feeling she
supposed was love.

In Casablanca, her tolerance of Rick’s petty vengefulness and her re-evaluation of her situation causes her to want to leave Laszlo for Rick again—which brings out Rick’s submerged feelings and frees them all.

Influence Character Critical Flaw

Ilsa’s constant denial of her true feelings toward Rick almost loses her the Letters she needs to save Laszlo. Ilsa has denied and ignored her true feelings for Rick, making them all the more powerful when they meet in Casablanca; she falls in love with Rick again, making it even more unlikely that he’ll help her stay with her husband.

Influence Character Benchmark

Ilsa’s view of the past has an increasing relevancy upon her own future as well as Rick’s. Recognizing Sam at Rick’s club, a nostalgic Ilsa insists on bringing up the past, despite Sam’s warning:

Leave him alone, Miss Ilsa. You’re bad luck to him.

Play it once, Sam, for old time’s sake.
Hearing their song makes Rick suffer the joy and pain of their time in Paris together, and he bitterly refuses to help her; at the marketplace, she reveals she left him for Laszlo—her husband—which further alienates Rick; unable to shoot Rick, Ilsa reveals what really happened in Paris, breaking through to him with the truth; sending her away, Rick reminisces:

We’ll always have Paris. We didn’t have it, we’d lost it
until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.

More Influence Character Information →
Influence Character Description

“She wears a simple white gown. Her beauty is such that people turn to stare.”
(Thomas, p. 138)
Mademoiselle, I was informed you were the most
beautiful woman ever to visit Casablanca. That was
a gross understatement.

Influence Character Throughline Synopsis

Torn between two lovers, Ilsa is destined to repeat her history. She stood up Rick for the nobler Laszlo at the Paris train station, and by reawakening feelings of romantic love and patriotism in him and then leaving the choice to Rick, she ensures that she’ll go with Laszlo and leave Rick behind again—this time at the airport.

Influence Character Backstory

After Ilsa’s marriage to Victor in Paris, he was captured by the Nazis:
Just a two line item in the paper: Victor Laszlo
apprehended. Sent to concentration camp. I was frantic.
For months, I tried to get word. Then it came. He was
dead, shot, trying to escape. I was lonely. I had nothing.
Not even hope. Then I met you.
Rick asks her why she kept her marriage a secret:
Oh, It wasn’t my secret, Richard. Victor wanted it that
way. Not even our closest friends knew about our
marriage. That was his way of protecting me.

Relationship Story Throughline


Relationship Story Throughline

Rick, wounded by Ilsa’s betrayal, protects himself from being hurt again by hiding his emotions. By baring her own heart to him and trusting him with her future, Ilsa shows Rick that the gain is worth the pain, and he changes to a loving, giving person again.

Relationship Story Concern

Rick’s resistance to transforming into an altruistic person like Laszlo causes conflict with the dedicated Ilsa:

Do I have to hear again what a great man your
husband is? What an important Cause he’s
fighting for?

It was your Cause, too. In your own way, you were
fighting for the same thing.

I’m not fighting for anything anymore, except myself.
I’m the only cause I’m interested in.

Relationship Story Issue

Rick has lost the zeal that led him to fight for freedom causes, and is steadfast about not getting involved again; though still married to Laszlo, the lovetorn Ilsa commits her love to Rick once again.

Relationship Story Counterpoint

When the dedicated Ilsa discovered Laszlo was still alive in Paris, she realized her place was at his side. Now she’s out to provoke Rick—the only one with access to the Letters of Transit—into putting the freedom of others ahead of himself, again:

With so much at stake, all you can think of is your
own feelings. One woman has hurt you, and you
take your revenge on the rest of the world. You’re—
you’re a coward and a weakling!

Relationship Story Thematic Conflict
Commitment vs.Responsibility

Ilsa’s sense of devotion is stronger than Rick’s noncommittal attitude, helping him commit to figuring out the best thing to do for everybody.

Relationship Story Problem

Ilsa’s walking out on Rick in Paris, causes Rick to lose faith in romantic love—and avoid getting too emotionally involved with any woman, as evidenced by his sending away of lovestruck Yvonne. Rick’s loss of faith in Ilsa’s love stirs up bitter feelings when she walks into his club years later in Casablanca:

Of all the gin joints in all the towns all over the world,
she walks into mine.

Relationship Story Solution

When Ilsa persuades Rick that what he’s believed about her behavior in Paris all these years is untrue, it allows the resurfacing of romantic love in Rick, and his realization that she was right to stay and support Laszlo.

Relationship Story Symptom

Because of their problem with faith, Rick and Ilsa focus on avoidance: Rick avoids his feelings regarding Ilsa by ordering Sam never to play their song, “As time goes by”; after Ilsa shows up again, Rick tries to forget her by getting drunk, then uses insults to keep her at bay when she tries to explain; after that first hurtful encounter, Ilsa evades Rick until she needs his help desperately.

Relationship Story Response

Rick and Ilsa direct their efforts toward pursuit: Ilsa grills the reluctant Sam about Rick’s whereabouts:

Where is Rick? [...] When will he be back?
[...] Does he always leave so early?
She flushes Rick out of hiding by having their song played:

Play it, Sam. Play “As Time Goes By.”
Rick goes after Ilsa in the marketplace, looking for answers to why she ran out on him; Ilsa goes to Rick—above a saloon, up a flight—to bargain for the Letters of Transit.

Relationship Story Catalyst

Rick’s and Ilsa’s rationalizations force the subjective story forward: In Paris, Ilsa sends Rick a “Dear John” letter saying goodbye, instead of explaining her true motives, thus alienating him and forming his misguided resentment toward her; having made the escape plans, Rick tells Ilsa what she wants to hear so he can do what’s best for her without her interference:

Richard, Victor thinks I’m leaving with him.
Haven’t you told him?

No, not yet.

But it’s all right, isn’t it? You were able to
arrange everything?

Everything is quite all right.
The drunken Rick’s bitter self-justification sends Ilsa running out to think up another approach:

Tell me, who was it you left me for: Was it Laszlo
or were there others in between? Or aren’t you the
kind that tells?

Relationship Story Inhibitor

Rick’s resentment of Ilsa delays her telling him the truth. Toughing it out, he tells Sam to play their song:

You played it for her. You can play it for me.
[...] If she can stand it I can. Play it!
Ilsa’s fear of getting too close to Rick again prevents her going to him for the letters until all other options expire.

Relationship Story Benchmark

To change Rick into a more compassionate person, he and Ilsa must carry out various schemes: in Paris, Rick envisions he and Ilsa being married by the train engineer; Ilsa’s plan to get Rick’s attention by playing their song works, but she hadn’t counted on his bitterness; Ilsa implements her plan to get the Letters from Rick by pointing a gun at his heart; in response to Ilsa’s pleas, Rick comes up with a scheme to make sure she won’t have to walk out on him again—by sending her away with Laszlo.

Additional Relationship Story Information →
Relationship Story Throughline Synopsis

Rick came to Casablanca to forget Ilsa. When Ilsa arrives at his club needing exit visas, bitter memories resurface, and Rick refuses to help. After she realizes how embittered Rick has become, Ilsa bares her soul and subjects herself to his mercy. Discovering the true meaning of love, he relents and gives her the Letters of Transit.

Relationship Story Backstory

Rick and Ilsa were lovers in Paris when the Nazis occupied the city. He asked Ilsa to marry him, and they planned to leave Paris together on the five o’clock train. But she didn’t show; instead she sent a note saying goodbye. Heartbroken, Rick has become cynical and isolated from people, not knowing Ilsa stood him up for a noble cause.

Additional Story Points

Key Structural Appreciations

Overall Story Goal

Everyone is concerned with obtaining the Letters of Transit: Ugarte kills the couriers and steals the Letters to bankroll his escape from Casablanca; Strasser wants the murderer of his couriers and the Letters returned, enlisting Renault as his enforcer; Laszlo and Ilsa, and the refugees, seek the Letters of Transit for their escape; Ferrari wants to buy them from Rick; entrusted with them by Ugarte, Rick has control of the Letters.

Overall Story Consequence

If the freedom-fighting Laszlos are unable to escape Casablanca and Strasser’s clutches, the Nazi occupation would become easier, leading to further enslavement of free European countries; etc.

Overall Story Cost

On the way to escaping Casablanca, the objective characters suffer negative effects relating to their future: Ugarte’s and Strasser’s futures are drastically cut short; Rick and Renault will be on the run from the Nazis for the rest of their lives, or until the Nazis are defeated; Rick loses his club and future income; by sending her to America, Rick’s almost certain not to see Ilsa ever again.

Overall Story Dividend

Laszlo’s obtaining the Letters of Transit fulfills his desire for freedom; Ilsa and Rick revive their undying love for each other; Ferrari satisfies his lust for owning Rick’s club; Renault gets sex by supplying visas to female refugees; etc.

Overall Story Requirements

Rick has to understand the truth about Paris before he can forgive Ilsa and stop being mean-spirited; once he understands the depth of Laszlo’s love—his willingness to put Ilsa before himself—Rick understands that Ilsa belongs with her more deserving husband, and engineers their escape. Strasser understands how powerful Laszlo’s influence is and has him arrested, and this causes Ilsa to act to save her husband. Ilsa understands how urgent it is to get the Letters, quits stalling, and pressures Rick for them. Renault must understand that his collaborator fence-sitting must end, realize that Rick is a patriot, and he is one too, and save Rick from arrest at the airport.

Overall Story Prerequisites

Rick schemes to achieve Laszlo’s escape from Casablanca by putting into Renault’s head the idea that Rick himself will escape with Ilsa, and that by setting up Laszlo with the Letters, Renault will win points with Strasser.

Overall Story Preconditions

Ilsa’s arrival in Casablanca makes Rick melancholic:

Of all the gin joints in all the towns all over the world,
she walks into mine.
Nostalgic for the good old days in Paris, he drinks himself into a flashback and can’t help but relive the pain of Ilsa’s ditching him.

Overall Story Forewarnings

Rick’s bitter memory of Ilsa’s jilting him is a forewarning that he may not help her and Laszlo to escape from Casablanca.

Plot Progression

Dynamic Act Appreciations

Overall Story

Overall Story Signpost 1

Residents and police learn of the murdered German couriers, Strasser learns of the murderer; Rick learns of the Letters of Transit and that Ugarte killed the couriers; Rick learns of the upcoming arrest in his club and that Laszlo is in Casablanca.

Overall Story Journey 1 from Learning to Understanding

The optimistic Laszlos arrive at Rick’s and meet disappointment—Ugarte’s been arrested and Strasser’s waiting for them instead.

Overall Story Signpost 2

Laszlo understands that Renault won’t sign exit visas unless he gives Strasser names of Underground leaders; Strasser understands the depth of Laszlo’s conviction:

If I didn’t give them to you in a concentration camp
where you had more persuasive methods at your
disposal, I certainly won’t give them to you now.
Ilsa and Laszlo understand the difficulty of getting Letters of Transit now that Ugarte’s dead.

Overall Story Journey 2 from Understanding to Doing

Desperate to escape Strasser’s increasing control, Laszlo makes little headway with Ferrari and Rick, but wins a moral victory by outsinging the Germans.

Overall Story Signpost 3

Yvonne dates a Nazi who gets in a fight with a French officer, leading to the France vs. Germany singing contest. When Laszlo leads the Marseillaise, Strasser shuts down Rick’s club.

Overall Story Journey 3 from Doing to Obtaining

Feeling more pressure from Strasser, both of the Laszlos ask Rick to save the other. Recognizing true love, Rick figures out what’s best for everyone.

Overall Story Signpost 4

Ferrari buys Rick’s club; Renault arrests Laszlo at the airport; Laszlo and Ilsa obtain Letters of Transit from Rick and escape; Rick takes Strasser’s life; Rick and Renault achieve a beautiful friendship.

Main Character

Main Character Signpost 1

Ex-girlfriend Yvonne asks the cynical Rick where he was last night:

That’s so long ago, I don’t remember.
Renault probes Rick’s memories:

I’ve often speculated on why you don’t return to
America. Did you abscond with the church funds?
Did you run off with the Senator’s wife? I’d like
to think that you killed a man. It’s the romantic
in me.

Main Character Journey 1 from Memory to Preconscious

While possessing a shady reputation and on the run himself, Rick agrees to safeguard the Letters but won’t help Ugarte evade justice, snapping:

Don’t be a fool. You can’t get away!

Main Character Signpost 2

Rick storms out of the casino into the bar when he hears Sam playing “As Time Goes By.” He snaps at Sam:

Sam, I thought I told you never to play it!
Rick goes on a drinking binge, then lashes out at Ilsa when she comes to explain Paris.

Main Character Journey 2 from Preconscious to Conscious

While bitter at Ilsa’s reopening of old wounds, Rick’s scrupulous enough to refuse to consider Ferrari’s offer of making profit off Ugarte’s crime.

Main Character Signpost 3

Ilsa gives Rick something to think about when she tells him she’s married to Laszlo; the Bulgarian bride causes Rick to think about love and he lets her win at roulette; Rick won’t consider Laszlo’s offer to buy the Letters.

Main Character Journey 3 from Conscious to Subconscious

His heart melted by Ilsa once more declaring her love for him, Rick agrees to get Laszlo out.

Main Character Signpost 4

Rick’s deeply moved by Laszlo’s self-sacrifice for Ilsa:

Do you love her that much?
He realizes Laszlo’s love is nobler than his own desires.

Influence Character

Influence Character Signpost 1

Upon recognizing Sam, Ilsa knows Rick’s nearby. She pressures Sam:

Where is Rick? [...] When will he be back?
[...] Does he always leave so early?

influence Character Journey 1 from Present to Progress

Taken aback that Rick’s no longer the man she used to know and love, Ilsa concentrates on trying to effect Laszlo’s escape.

Influence Character Signpost 2

Ilsa’s quest for the Letters of Transit suffers a setback with news of Ugarte’s death, but moves forward again when she learns from Ferrari that Rick has them.

Influence Character Journey 2 from Progress to Future

The way Rick is acting, Ilsa gives up trying to explain her past actions to him until he cynically remarks that, in the future, she will probably do the same to Victor as she had done to him:

. . . you’ll lie to Laszlo . . .

No, Rick. You see, Victor Laszlo is my husband.

Influence Character Signpost 3

Strasser tells Ilsa that there are three options for Laszlo’s future: a concentration camp, “safe” passage back to Occupied France, or death in Casablanca; Ilsa tells Laszlo that whatever she may do in the future, it’s because she loves him.

Influence Character Journey 3 from Future to Past

Resorting to violence but unable to hurt Rick, Ilsa breaks down and falls in love with him again.

Influence Character Signpost 4

Ilsa tells Rick the whole truth about what happened in Paris, causing him to lose his resentment and do the right thing.

Relationship Story

Relationship Story Signpost 1

When they meet again in Rick’s club, Rick and Ilsa pretend they’re only acquaintances; Rick pretends he can relive his life with Ilsa in Paris; on that last day in Paris, Ilsa acts as if she will marry Rick.

Relationship Story Journey 1 from Being to BecomingAs his attitude softens toward Ilsa, Rick shows signs of changing from a bitter, jilted lover into a "rank sentimentalist."
Relationship Story Signpost 2

Seeing a parallel between the sad love story of refugee Annina and that of Ilsa, Rick has a change of heart and lets the newlyweds win money for exit visas.

Relationship Story Journey 2 from Becoming to Conceiving

Ilsa swallows her pride and approaches Rick for the Letters, but their trading of barbs gets her nowhere and she needs to think of a different line of attack.

Relationship Story Signpost 3

Ilsa comes up with the idea of using a gun to get the Letters of Transit from Rick; she can’t conceive of leaving him again and asks him to do the thinking.

Relationship Story Journey 3 from Conceiving to Conceptualizing

Falling back in love with Rick, Ilsa throws herself and Laszlo at his mercy and asks him to come up with an idea that they can immediately implement to resolve all of their dilemmas.

Relationship Story Signpost 4

Rick implements his master plan for Ilsa by tricking Renault, and getting her and Victor on the plane together.

Plot Progression Visualizations

Dynamic Act Schematics


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