Historical context and setting

The film is set in Casablanca, Morocco in the early days of the Second World War. In a geographical sense, the choice of Casablanca as a setting is essential to the way that the narrative develops, as all the characters are, in a way visitors there. “Casablanca” was directed by Michael Curtiz and was being made just as U.S. entered the World War II in 1942. The film was released widely in 1943 during the high-profile meeting between Churchill and Roosevelt in Casablanca itself.

Casablanca’s connection to France, but geographical distance, means that the representatives of Vichy France, the Resistance, and the Nazi Party behave in ways that would not have been possible elsewhere – they are forced to co-exist resulting in moments of tension and danger.

Some aspects of cultural context

Cultural context looks into the setting and society of the text. How the characters lived and how their culture has affected their behaviour.  In Casablanca, some of the main aspects of cultural context are power, war and politics.

The opening scene in the film provides the viewer with many insightful information on the cultural context. “With the coming of the Second World War many eyes in imprisoned Europe turned hopefully or desperately towards the freedom of the Americas. Lisbon became the great embarkation point. But not everybody could get to Lisbon directly, and so, a tortuous, roundabout refugee trail sprung up. Paris to Marseille, across the Mediterranean to Oran, then by train, or auto, or foot, across the rim of Africa, to Casablanca in French Morocco. Here the fortunate ones, through money or influence or luck, might obtain exit visas and scurry to Lisbon, and from Lisbon to the New World. But others wait in Casablanca, and wait —- and wait —- and wait”.

The main theme behind the story is war and politics. In Casablanca, several cultures co-exist and co-operate in it’s locality – the locals of Casablanca who are usually represented as traders, the Americans like Rick, the Vichy French (like Renault co-operating with the Germans), the resistance fighters, the Germans and other Europeans.  The usual scenes of war are seen throughout the city – shootings in the street, escaped prisoners, murder, people on the run, bribery, black markets and secret meetings.

Songs and music are prominent in the film, creating moods and environments according to the scene. For example, the song ‘As Time Goes By’ is used to create a romantic mood in Paris. The song is also used in Casablanca, suggesting lost love. The French National anthem is played in the background emphasises French control and involvement. The jazz music in the bar provides an American flavour, appropriate to “Rick’s Café Americain”.