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One of the Best! This movie is on TWM's short list of the best movies to supplement classes in United States History, High School Level.

SUBJECTS — U.S./1941 - 1945; World/WWII; France & Morocco;
        ELA: Extended Metaphor; Allegory; Hero's
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Romantic Relationships;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Responsibility; Caring;

Age: 12+; No MPAA Rating; Drama; 1942; 102 minutes; B & W; Available from Amazon.com.

Description: It's 1941, and the German military machine has defeated France and most of Europe. Victor Laszlo, the leader of the Czech resistance, has escaped from a German concentration camp. With Ilsa, his beautiful young wife, he flees to Casablanca, the capital of Morocco. From there he intends to travel to Lisbon and then to America where he will continue working to defeat fascism. Laszlo's prospects for leaving Casablanca depend upon Rick, a deeply disillusioned American expatriate who operates a popular nightclub. It turns out that before the fall of Paris, Rick and Ilsa had an intense love affair that ended suddenly when Ilsa disappeared. Rick is still in love with Ilsa, and she is in love with him. Rick and Ilsa must make choices that will either serve themselves or a greater good.

Casablanca, one of the most popular movies ever made, is considered by many to be an artistically flawless film.

Rationale for Using the Movie:

English Language Arts Classes: The film provides an excellent example of extended metaphor. It shows the interaction between extended metaphor and symbol. The movie also provides an example of the Hero's Journey, Joseph Campbell's Monomyth, in which the hero undertakes a quest of personal growth and development.

Social Studies Classes: The movie will confirm basic lessons about the early part of WWII in Europe and Africa and will provide students with a visceral understanding of the movement of American sentiment away from isolationism and to engagement on the world stage. The film is an excellent example of historical fiction, even though it doesn't mention the most important historical events which it portrays.

Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide:

English Language Arts Classes: The movie facilitates learning about extended metaphor and symbol. Students will understand that a filmed story can contain many layers.
TWM has developed a ELA film study worksheet for students to fill out after the film.

Casablanca can also provide an example of the Hero's Journey of Internal Growth and Development. See Worksheet For Analyzing Casablanca as an example of the Hero's Journey of internal growth and development..

American History Classes: The movie provides a different way to study the end of American isolationism. It is an excellent reward film (with a little work attached) and an addition to a list of films for students to watch at home and answer as homework a series of questions. See TWM's Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.

Possible Problems: Minor. Smoking and alcohol abuse are shown.



Rationale and Objectives
Possible Problems
Parenting Points

Using the Movie in Class:
      Introducing the Movie
      Discussion Questions


Helpful Background:
      Pre-Viewing Worksheet
      Additional Helpful Background

Additional Discussion Questions:
      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)

Additional Assignments

Teaching the Hero's Journey
      Using Casablanca

Other Sections:
      Links to the Internet
      Selected Awards & Cast

MOVIE WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film. Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Movies as Literature Homework Project and the Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.

Use of refugees and immigrants in Filming Casablanca:

Most of the actors and actresses in the film were immigrants; some were refugees from the conflicts in Europe. Several of them had suffered loss of family and friends. Details about the nationality of performers are available on line.


Introducing the Movie

Tell students that Casablanca is a great love story and more.

To appreciate the extended metaphor in Casablanca and the movie in general, students need to have brief background information on the following topics:

    (1) isolationism in the U.S. after WWI and extending through 1941;

    (2) the first two years of WWII (1939 - 1941) with particular emphasis on what was occurring in France and its empire;

    (3) Czechoslovakia and the Munich Conference;

    (4) the popularity of American Jazz music in Europe, with particular emphasis on the period before WWII and

    (5) some of the techniques of black and white photography employed in the film.

This background can be delivered by having groups of students research each of the five topics and make presentations to the class. The minimum information necessary is also contained in TWM's Casablanca Pre-Viewing Enrichment Worksheet, which can be assigned as in-class work or as homework. A final alternative is to provide the information through direct instruction.


Discussion Questions:

After the film has been watched, engage the class in a discussion about the movie.

The first two discussion questions should be asked in order and are a vehicle for introducing Casablanca as a multi-layered story which includes an extended metaphor.
1.  This is a story of Rick's redemption. To "redeem" means to "buy back." What did Rick pay to redeem himself and what did get in return? Suggested Response: Answers will vary. Rick's payment is to give up Isla and to enter the struggle against fascism. Rick has bought back his self-respect, a world-view in which he believes in the good causes for which he has often fought, and his belief in love, which he regained after he determined to sacrifice his love for Isla for her good and for the greater good of the cause against fascism.

2.  A metaphor describes something by equating it with something which, literally, it cannot be. Some metaphors are short phrases such as, "Rosy fingered dawn." (Dawn has no fingers.) Other metaphors are extended into entire stories. Casablanca is an extended metaphor for something relating to the United States. Describe the contours of this metaphor. Think about the time the movie was made, 1941, and what political issues were being debated in the U.S. at that time. Here is one more hint. What was the foreign policy of the U.S. in the 1930s? Think about details from the movie. Suggested Response: [If classes need more help to see the metaphor go to: clues to the extended metaphor.] Rick stands for the U.S. or the people of the U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s. He is disillusion and withdrawn, only concerned with himself and those immediately around him, such as his employees. Slowly, through the story, he becomes engaged and sacrifices what he love for the greater good; he gives up his restaurant and joins the resistance.

3.  Waiting is a motif in the film that recurs several times. In relationship to the concept of Rick as a metaphor for the isolationism of America before it entered WWII, how does the pattern of waiting finally play out? Suggested Response: Answers will vary. Anti-fascist Europe had been waiting for years for the U.S. to become an ally. Refugees had been waiting long periods of time to escape the threats of a German victory. What is important is that the students note that all waiting is over as soon as Rick makes the decision to do the right thing. At that point the action moves rapidly forward.

4.  Rick's friend and employee, Sam, who plays "As Time Goes By," is referred to as "the boy at the piano" by Ilsa. In today's culture this would be unacceptable. What has changed in the years between 1941 and now that make referring to a black man as "boy" inappropriate? Suggested Response: Answers should recognize the raising of consciousness caused by the Civil Rights Movement of the l960s and possibly the earlier decision by the military to integrate troops and to recognize the efforts of black soldiers in the war effort.

For additional discussion questions, click here.


Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:

1.  Write a formal essay in which you analyze both Rick and Laszlo so they can be seen as men who are radically different yet who emerge at the film's end as heroes. Use scense, action, and dialogue to define character and reveal heroic qualities.

2.  Research the nation of Morocco, including its history as a French colony. Look especially into the population of Jews in Morocco and how they fared during World War II once the Nazi troops had overthrown France. Present your findings in an oral report to the class.

3.  Discuss, in a formal essay, Rick's moral growth from self-interest to engagement and sacrifice. Compare this shift to the one made by the American public in terms of willingness to go to war to oppose fascism in other countries.

4.  Laszlo was a member of the Underground movement fighting against the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. It is apparent at the end of the film that Rick will now become a part of a resistance movement. Research information about resistance movements in Europe during WWII and write an informative essay revealing their organizational patterns and their effectiveness in contributing to the defeat of the Nazis.

For additional assignments, click here.


Review the worksheet for suitability for your classes. Modify as appropriate.

Are you concerned that time will be wasted if you are absent from class? Worry no more  .  .  .   Check out TeachWithMovies' Set-Up-the-Sub.

Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

Parenting Points: Before your children watch this movie, ask them to note, even though the film is in black and white, the many contrasting elements used to catch their eye and hold their attention. Explain the concept of isolationism and tell them to watch for it in Rick's comments and behavior. Tell them that the actor who plays Rick was considered one of the finest in his day and that the woman who plays Ilsa was considered one of the most beautiful actresses ever filmed. Tell them also that most of the people they will see in the film were actually refugees who had fled the conflicts in Europe.

Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.

This Learning Guide written by James Frieden and Mary RedClay. The Guide was last updated on September 1, 2012.

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