Refugees in Rick’s Café Americain are noted for having been driven from their fascist homelands because of their minds. Because they’re independent thinkers who can’t be intimidated into mindless conformance, into group-think. Can’t be parted from their individuality, their sovereign rights as citizens to use their judgment to call out injustices and other wrongs that inflict suffering. That offend shared responsibility to the community, to everyone’s future.
They flee oppression with their different languages, dress, and customs, because they have a conscience. Because they refuse to sacrifice their conscience, their values, their individual worth, to the demands of an authority that tolerates nothing but obedience. That achieves conformance by crushing those who refuse to surrender their minds, their free will, their autonomy and individuality, to the group. That insists on possessing its subjects’ consciences and subjecting them to total control so that they may never question its authority. May never question the rightness or wrongness of its rule. May never use their consciences to question at all.
Escape from “paradise”
To ask Why, because independent thinking that asks Why might awaken its subjects to the Reality of their captivity. To the Truth that their “paradise” of forced conformance is based on a lie: that it’s for their benefit when it’s not. When its real purpose is only to preserve the authority of their oppressor. To preserve the appearance of its legitimacy, its façade of unreality.
The refugees in Rick’s Café are non-conformists not to make trouble, not to disrupt peace in the family. They’re non-conformists to stand up against the façade of peace that’s maintained by possession and coercion. By dominance, disempowerment, cruelty, and invalidation instead of sharing, empowerment, fairness, kindness, and affirmation. To stand up for the values that enable real peace, real harmony. Upheld by the free will of its subjects from the bottom up instead of forced upon them from the top down.
For love of Democracy, for love of Diversity
For all their differences the refugees in Rick’s Café are alike in one respect: they are all democrats. They gather together in Rick’s sanctuary in harmony because the values they share are shared freely, not dictated to them by Rick or by anyone else. They are individuals free to display their differences as we are in a free society, in a democracy.To display their individuality, their eccentricities, their special talents, because that’s the point: to enrich their society with diversity. With contributions from every source, every member with anything to offer no matter how unconventional.
The scene is set in the film’s opening shot as the camera pans from the pianist singing “Knock on Wood” to every table. Where individuals from different countries, different cultures, different perspectives, speaking different languages, are engaged in animated conversation. Opening themselves to an intimacy of thinking, feeling, and judgment that would be unimaginable back home. Sharing lives, sharing thoughts, debating philosophy and ideals.
The cruelty of an unchanging status quo
The title of the film Casablanca's original story was Everybody Comes to Rick’s. Because Rick’s welcomes everybody. Everybody, that is, with a conscience who thinks for themselves. Everybody who has the character and the courage to stand up for what’s right, for personal responsibility, kindness, and justice. The very same reasons why they’re not welcome back home.
For them, it’s an honor not to be welcome back home. A source of pride that they’ve stood up for their conscience and attracted notice. That they prefer exile to the comforts of home where free spirits with a conscience don’t belong. Where change is not welcome that would challenge the thoughtlessness, the cruelty, of an unchanging status quo. Proud that they don’t rely on affirmation by group conformance but by their own native worth, their own individual creativity, their own free spirit of love and inquiry.
Allons enfants de la Patrie!
Who comes to Rick’s? The children of Democracy. Those who love Democracy and the spirits of those who’ve fought and died for Democracy. In the context of its time, "Everybody Comes to Rick’s" was right: Everybody united in opposition to fascism comes to Rick’s. There was nobody else then, not in America.
Today, there is somebody else in America. They’ve chosen another place to go: Plato’s Cave. We will visit them in their Cave, but another time. Rick has just given his musicians permission to play La Marseillaise. A momentous change of mind that will put Victor and Ilsa on the last plane to Lisbon and end Rick’s tale with a beautiful friendship. I don’t want to miss it.