You’re in for a treat today. Humphrey Bogart is providing an unforgettable example of relational wisdom. His platform is Casablanca, a movie that has consistently ranked as one of the greatest films of all time.
The movie is set in Morocco, shortly after the beginning of World War II. Bogart plays the role of Rick, a self-absorbed and embittered nightclub owner. A year earlier, he had fallen in love with a beautiful Norwegian refugee named Ilsa (played by Ingrid Bergman), who abandoned him without explanation in Paris, just before the city fell to the Nazis.
Now, out of the blue, Ilsa walks into his nightclub in Casablanca, accompanied by her husband, Victor Laszlo, a renowned fugitive Czech Resistance leader. Like thousands of other refugees fleeing occupied Europe, they are desperately seeking a way to get beyond the reach of the Nazis. When they seek help from Rick, he initially turns them down cold because of his bitterness toward Ilsa.
Ilsa eventually explains to Rick that when they fell in love in Paris, she thought Victor had been killed in a concentration camp. Just before the city fell, however, she had learned that her husband had escaped and was hiding nearby. When she learned he was critically ill, her sense of duty had compelled her to go to his aid. Fearing that Rick would stay in Paris to help her, she had decided to disappear without giving him any explanation.
Once Rick understands the reasons for her disappearance, his bitterness disappears and their love for each other reignites. They craft a plan to stay together, while first saving Victor from the Nazis by flying him out of Casablanca using a special letter of transit.
The following scene is the climax of the movie. Rick and Ilsa have made it to the airport and are about to put Victor onto the plane for Portugal. Emotions have been running high for days. Watch what happens when wisdom intervenes and changes the course of their lives. (If video screen does not appear below, click here.)
This brief scene illustrates two powerful relational principles.
First, it portrays the beauty and appeal of personal sacrifice, which is the driving force of the entire movie. At the outset of the movie, most of the main characters—and especially Rick—are driven by self-interest. As the story progresses, however, the characters evolve and each of them begins to make significant personal sacrifices to help others.
The willingness to sacrifice for the sake of others is commended throughout Scripture as a key to building relationships that reflect the love of Christ. As the apostle Paul teaches,
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who … humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:3-6).
Rick’s transformation from being self-absorbed to being self-sacrificing is vividly revealed by these words to Ilsa:
“You’re getting on that plane with Victor where you belong ….
“Do you have any idea what you’ve got to look forward to if you stayed here? Nine chances out of ten we’d both end up in a concentration camp.
“Inside of us we both know you belong with Victor. You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life….
“I’ve got a job to do, too, and where I’m going you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do you can’t be any part of…. Someday you’ll understand.
[And the classic closing!] “Here’s looking at you, Kid.”
The second relational concept Rick demonstrates is something I call the READ principle (a simple way to practice self-awareness and self-engagement). Any time you are in a situation where your emotions are threatening to overpower rational thinking, ask God to help you to slow down and READ Yourself Accurately:
- Recognize and name your emotions
- Evaluate their source
- Anticipate the consequences of following them
- Direct them on a constructive course
Watch and Learn
Watch this short clip again and notice how perfectly Rick illustrates these four actions. The night before, he and Ilsa were overwhelmed by the reigniting of their love for each other. But after she left the nightclub, Rick calmed down and, in his own words, “did a lot of thinking.”
As a result, he was able to see past the intense emotions he felt for Ilsa (fueled primarily by romantic desires) and discern the consequences of following their passions. In addition to anticipating their possible imprisonment, he foresees an even worse life-long consequence:
“If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life….”
This insight applies to so many of the choices we all make when we are driven by unexamined emotions, and especially selfish and sinful emotions. These choices may bring us momentary pleasure, but once that pleasure passes, we are usually haunted by feelings of guilt and regret.
To put it another way, one of the chief powers of sin is to get us to focus on the pleasure of the moment while ignoring the price we will one day pay for those pleasures. Few stories illustrate this more graphically than King David’s lustful affair with Bathsheba and the long string of murders, rapes, and rebellions that plagued him the rest of his life (see 2 Samuel 12-18).
One way to counteract the deceiving and misleading power of sin is to ask God to help you practice the READ principle any time you’re feeling swept along by your emotions.
As he empowers you to develop the discipline of identifying, evaluating, and directing your emotions in constructive ways, your life will be filled with fewer regrets and more of the peace that comes from imitating the wisdom of Christ.
Watch with Wisdom
This movie is tame by today’s standards. It contains no profanity, gratuitous violence, or explicit sexual content. The chief of police attempts to extort sexual favors from a beautiful refugee woman, but this theme is handled subtly (and is resolved by another sacrifice by Rick). Be prepared to discuss abuse of power with your children. For a detailed review of its content, see MovieGuide.
— Ken Sande
- To get a full picture of the beauty and power of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, read and discuss all of Philippians 2:5-11.
- Is there anyone in your life God may be calling you to sacrifice for so that you could imitate Jesus’ sacrifice for you?
- Which elements of the READ principle do the following passages support: Psalm 42:5; Matthew 14:30; Proverbs 20:5; Proverbs 22:3; Proverbs 15:18; Proverbs 15:1; Ephesians 4:26?
- Describe a recent situation in which emotions triggered a decision you later regretted.
- Write the READ principle on a card or Smartphone reminder and deliberately practice it when you realize your emotions are moving you to act in ways you may later regret.
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© 2019 Ken Sande
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