Thursday, November 18, 2010

Casblanca & The Seventh Seal

A while back I made a post about my lit&film class. I FINALLY got the paper back from the teacher and am now able to post it and share it with you all. I wanted to share it because I think it is interesting how much storytelling is in films. When you watch a movie you don't necessarily think of the plot, the characters, and the setting as much as you do a book. Upon taking this lit&film class, I have thought more about how important the same elements for books are to film. This is a comparison between Casablanca and The Seventh Seal. If you haven't watched them, I highly recommend both movies.

In life we struggle with our own battles and make our decisions based on faith, morals, and sometimes love. The decisions that we make are sometimes met with consequences that we do not necessarily prepare for. We may lose the ones we love or worse, face death. The faithful will say that God will not bring you to it if he cannot see you through it, while those who question may say, “Faith is a torment. It is like loving someone who is out there in the darkness but never appears, no matter how loudly you call” as Antonius Block said in The Seventh Seal. Our morals tell us what is right and wrong, but it is our faith that leads us blindly into decisions that spring questions that cannot be answered by a visible being.

Rick of Rick's Café Américain in Casablanca shows what it is to make decisions based upon love. Rick is a displaced New Yorker living in Casablanca when we meet him and a hero by the time we get to know him. He is a wanted man for being neutral during the struggle of the Nazi‟s dominance and eagerly wishes to go back to America. The desperation that Rick has is not met with an empty audience, as many others in Casablanca wish to leave as well, leaving the coveted letters of transit open for a game of power and money struggle between the patrons of Casablanca. Rick is in a place of power himself being the owner of the café, and has the opportunity to leave Casablanca but instead sacrifices his freedom for his love, IIsa Lund.

Antonius Block is a knight of the Crusades returning from battle during a dark time in European history, the attempt at restoring Christianity is accompanied by the scare of the Black Death or the Plague. He is met face to face with Death and makes a personal struggle with faith. Antonius must face the fact that he fought for a cause that he may not actually believe in; a God that does not answer his questions nor show his compassion. The horrifying and deadly Plague is a device that is used to generate more fear into humanity, the fear of God. During a time when faith is all that people had, Antonius began to question his and had to escape death.

Rick and Antonius are from two different time periods but share a distinct theme; they are both trying to escape from something, Rick from the Nazi‟s and Antonius from his faith issues and Death. Rick has the opportunity to leave Casablanca behind and gain his freedom, the opportunity to escape. Even after finding out that IIsa committed adultery, his love for her prevents him from holding it above her head. IIsa‟s husband Victor is an escapee from a concentration camp and has even more reason to flea than Rick does. He could have easily punished IIsa by using the letters of transit for himself or even going as far as letting her go with him and leaving Victor behind, yet he sacrifices himself for love and gives her the letters of transit, despite the fact that German Major Strasser would have his head if he found out.

Antonius befriends Jof and Mia, a married couple that represent a strong faith in God. While Antonius tries to escape Death by playing chess, Jof and Mia are figures of hope and happiness during a time that is less than hopeful. Antonius‟ attempt to knock over the chess board shows his desperate attempt to flee the situation, to escape the inevitable. He comes to confessional and says, “I cry out to God in the dark, but sometimes it seems as if there is no one there,” in which he gets the reply from the monk whom he does not know is death that perhaps there is no one there. Antonius gives an unforgettable, thought provoking declaration stating "If that is true, then all of life is meaningless [or „a senseless horror‟]. Nobody can live with death before he dies if he thinks that oblivion lies at the end." One can immediately connected with Antonius Block as sometimes we struggle with faith and whether or we believe in God. Antonius lived in an era where it was unheard of to declare that God did not exist, so much that one would be considered a witch as the girl in the story and left for dead, shunned by humanity. This is not as old fashioned as it may seem, as what is an atheist in today‟s society but a joke to be laughed at, a person to be humiliated for thinking differently than others. The Seventh Seal is timeless even though it is set in a foreign time and the theme of escaping one‟s fears of something that they once thought to be truth is no longer adhered to as truth, but rather a piece of a puzzle that no one can put together.

Rick shows no sign in faith in God, but his faith or lack thereof in IIsa and the fear of Nazi‟s taking over just as Antonius‟ fear of death and trying to escape connects with the overall feeling of desperation and hopelessness. The Nazi‟s can be compared to the Black Death, as both were set out on destroying as many people as possible. Rick however has the upper hand over Antonius as at the end Rick has the satisfaction of staging the Nazi General‟s death to make it look as if the letters of transit were stolen by Victor so as to get himself off the hook, but at the same time kill one of the most powerful Nazi leaders in Casablanca; if only we could see the outcome after everyone heard of the General‟s death.

Antonius receives the short end of the stick as he dies without any answers to his questions and does not have the comfort of knowing that when he dies he will meet his maker, which isn‟t that what faith in a God is about, the comfort of knowing that someone is looking out for you, that someone is waiting for you and that there will be light at the end of the tunnel? Antonius questions his faith throughout the movie, but when faced with certain death, knowing that he has no way to escape, he cries out in desperation to God. He prays and as desperate as he is, God does not answer.

At the end of The Seventh Seal there is an amazing visage of Antonius and his compatriots that death came to take, dancing across a hill. Their bodies are completely blacked out and all that can be seen is the outline of their bodies as they hold hands and follow behind death. Jof announces to Mia what he sees and she states, “You with your visions!” Throughout the film Jof describes different visions which lead the viewer to wonder if the entire events that took place actually happened. Mia and Jof are walking along in the sunshine with smiles on their faces as if nothing had occurred. In comparison at the end of Casablanca, Rick and Captain Renault walk off into the distance leaving just as much to wonder about what happens next, but not so much that the audience feels as if the story was a cliffhanger.

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