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Commentary: The Most Inspiring Film

By Chris Tucker, KERA 90.1 Commentator

Dallas, TX –

If you even glance at the headlines -filled with the troubles in Iraq, the immigration dilemma, fears about the environment - you'll agree that we could use some inspiration right about now. Maybe that's what the American Film Institute has in mind.

They started with a sprawling list of 300 nominated films, which will be whittled down to 100 for a big CBS special next week. Movies such as Rocky, Saving Private Ryan, Glory, High Noon, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Chariots of Fire seem like pretty safe picks for the top 100.

As for the film that will be voted Most Inspiring American Movie, I can see a dozen possible winners, but my choice is -drum roll, please - Casablanca.

Now many people think of Casablanca as primarily a love story, and it's true that the relationship between Humphrey Bogart's Rick and Ingrid Bergman's Ilsa sparks some of the film's most memorable lines: "Here's looking at you, kid;" "We'll always have Paris." But remember, when the film opens their relationship has been over for a year, ever since the day the Germans marched into Paris and Ilsa failed to meet Rick at the train station. That left him heartbroken, bitter and alienated from his country and from humanity.

"If we stop fighting our enemies," the resistance leader Victor Laszlo tells Rick, "the world will die."

"Well, what of it?" answers Rick. "It'll be out of its misery." As he says later in the movie, "I'm the only cause I believe in."

But Rick's frozen heart begins to thaw when Laszlo asks him to use the stolen exit visas to take Ilsa away from Casablanca. Seeing this willingness to sacrifice even more - from a man who has already escaped a concentration camp and risked his life to help others Rick starts on the road to redemption. In the end, the lovers realize their love must be sacrificed in the name of the larger cause. She must go with Laszlo as he continues to rally the world against the Nazis.

"Welcome back to the fight," Laszlo tells Rick. "And this time I know our side will win."

The theme of so many movies today is summed up in the well-known line from Woody Allen: "The heart wants what it wants." That's true, but as Casablanca reminds us, the heart can't always have what it wants. Sometimes we can't have it all. And so, knowing that duty must trump love, Rick delivers the lines that resonated with so many caught up in World War Two:

"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 of beans in this crazy world."

The world still seems crazy today maybe it always has but I wonder if we've forgotten the bittersweet lessons of Casablanca. Enjoying a level of comfort beyond anything the world has ever known, we mistake our privileges for rights, and we constantly invent new ways to exalt the individual above the needs of the community. A tiny sliver of the population serves in the military; the rest of us go about our daily lives. While crises loom, our leaders hesitate to ask for any kind of sacrifice. If we're ever called upon to put a larger cause ahead of our individual satisfaction, we may have to look not to Washington but Hollywood, and draw inspiration from movies like Casablanca.

Chris Tucker is a Dallas writer and book editor.

Casablanca was number 32 on the American Film Institute's list of most inspiring films. For the rest of the list, visit the American Film Institute's Most Inspiring Films page.

If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.