Tim Burton once said, “Certain things leave you in your life and certain things stay with you. And that’s why we’re all interested in movies- those ones that make you feel, you still think about” (as on Goodreads, n.d.). The three movies discussed here are movies that “make you feel.” Quite frankly, I am ashamed to admit that I had to watch the three movies in the past week, as none of the movies on our list were movies that I had seen in their entirety, as I am not your typical movie buff. I watch movies that are on television, or when I have an evening to myself, I pull out an old romantic comedy. And while I went into this assignment excited to sit down and watch movies that are held in such high regard, I did not go into each movie expecting to enjoy or “feel” anything from them. Surprisingly, each movie, Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, and It’s a Wonderful Life each left a different impression with me.
While it’s not the most famous line from Casablanca, the line,”I stick my neck out for nobody,” is repeated several times by Rick Blaine throughout of the movie. This line sets the tone for Rick’s character, who seemingly cares about no one (Wallis, 1942). The story of Casablanca takes us on a journey with the character Rick Blaine, who owns a nightclub in Casablanca, a place where immigrants on their way to America sought refuge while they tried to obtain exit visas. When a lost love walks back into his life with another man, Rick is faced with decisions that have both romantic and political implications. Ultimately, Rick has the choice of reclaiming the love he once lost, Ilsa, or helping Ilsa and her husband, Laszlo, escape to save both Laszlo’s life and the Anti-Nazi movement. The journey from the man Rick used to be to who he is at the end of the move is shaped by events along the way that focus on his relationship with the Nazi’s, as well as his desire to help the underdog.
Set in the beginning of World War II, the movie chronicles how Rick’s character handles mounting pressure from Nazi officials who are in Casablanca to capture Victor Laszlo, a Czechoslovak underground leader, who arrives in Casablanca with Rick’s former love, Ilsa. The bitter and cynical Rick immediately starts transforming once Ilsa arrives, as he starts breaking his self-made rule of not drinking with customers, and then paying Laszlo’s bill. There is an instant connection between Ilsa and Rick, and it becomes apparent that the two had a romantic relationship in the past that left them still linked to one another. Flashbacks to a time when Rick and Ilsa knew one another in Paris, France show a romantic relationship between the two that culminates with Rick proposing to Ilsa and their plans to run away. However, the flashback ends with Rick being abandoned at the train station with a letter that tells him she would not be going with him. The revelation from the flashback seems to show us why Rick has been so lonely and bitter towards people.
As Rick starts to transform from a selfish, cynical man, he is faced with the decision of whether he will help his former lover and her husband escape with two exit visas he obtained earlier in the movie. Not only is Rick’s decision affected by his love for Ilsa, but it is also one that forces the often neutral character to choose sides between the Nazi’s, who are trying to capture Laszlo, and the Anit-Nazis. His selfishness and neutrality begin to fade as the movie progresses. Not only does Rick help another couple win money needed to purchase exit visas, he also approves the playing of La Marseillaise in honor of Occupied France overtop of the German’s Die Wacht am Rhein. This event causes Rick’s club to be shut down temporarily, pushing Rick further to the Anti-Nazi side.
With a last chance effort, Ilsa approaches Rick to try to obtain the exit visas, if not for herself, but for Laszlo. Ilsa confesses why she did not go with Rick so many years ago, as she discovered that the husband she once thought was dead, was actually alive. This forced her to choose between her husband and the man she had fallen in love with. Although not apparent at this time, with this explanation, Rick seems to receive the closure he needed from Ilsa, thus allowing for his total transformation. While Rick leads Ilsa to believe that he will save Laszlo, so that she and Rick can be together again, the innerworkings of Rick’s plan begin to take shape. As he sets up Officer Renault with what he assumes will be an arrest, Rick in turn forces Renault at gunpoint to assist in the safe passing of Ilsa and Laszlo on the plane out of Casablanca. Rick gives the exit visas to Ilsa and Laszlo so that they can escape. As the plane takes off, Major Strausser, the Nazi official who was after Laszlo arrives after being tipped off by Renault earlier, and is shot by Rick, thus completing the transformation of Rick Blaine from a bitter, closed-off and neutral man to a compassionate and devoted member of the Anit-Nazi movement. The final closure from Ilsa gave Rick the ability to move past his bitterness to a place where he was able to see that while she loved both men, her heart belonged to Laszlo.
While Rick chose not to act on his love in the typical way most people do, his selfless choice to let Isla go was an action in and of itself. This act not only signifies Rick’s total transformation, but also his choice to join the Anti-Nazi movement. A once bitter and cynical man comes out of a horrible situation with a new outlook on life and the ability to hopefully love again.
Gone with the Wind
In one of the final lines of Gone with the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara says, “After all, tomorrow is another day” (Selznick, 1939). While this line sounds like a cliché of people who are clinging to hope for the future, this line signifies the true transformation of Scarlett O’Hara. The transformation of Scarlett from spoiled and arrogant to a character filled with hope, maturity, and yet uncertainty is perhaps one of the greatest transformations that takes place in a movie. While the underlying story revolves around Scarlett’s unrequited love for Ashley Wilkes, the true story revolves around Scarlett’s quest for love and security.
Set in the Old South, Gone with the Wind chronicles Scarlett’s journey from a young, spoiled girl who seeks to occupy the attention of all men, but most importantly, Ashley Wilkes, who she believes is her one true love. The journey that Scarlett takes and the decisions made throughout the movie all revolve around the supposed love for Ashley. After Ashley marries a girl, Melanie, Scarlett immediately retaliates by marrying Melanie’s brother, who goes on to die in the war. With her presence etched in Melanie and Ashley’s lives now as family, Scarlett starts to develop a sort of friendship with kindhearted Melanie while Ashley is at war. Scarlett also develops a love/hate relationship with Rhett Butler, whom she met prior to the war and knew of Scarlett’s obsessive love for Ashley. Although Scarlett is clearly attracted to Rhett, she allows the dream of a relationship with Ashley to cloud her vision of a man who could provide everything she has always looked for, passion, money, and security.
As the war progresses and Scarlett spends more time with Melanie, who Scarlett promised to Ashley she would look after, the transformation of Scarlett from a spoiled girl to one that is caring and considerate becomes noticeable. While the underlying cause of her actions still revolves around Ashley, Scarlett begins to care about others, as this is especially noticeable in the birth of Melanie’s son, and the escape from Atlanta back to Tara with a sick and weak, Melanie and baby. The care and attention Scarlett gives to Melanie shows a side of Scarlett that is unlike the character that started the movie. With the return to Tara, Scarlett is faced with the loss of her mother, a father with dementia, and a plantation with no food and plenty of mouths to feed. With little help, Scarlett starts to rebuild the plantation in hopes of never having to go hungry again.
The return of Ashley from war, and the end of the Civil War, marked another change for Scarlett. She seems to revert back to her childish ways of trying to attract the attention of Ashley, although now Scarlett is faced with larger problems. When a tax bill threatens the family home, Scarlett turns to the men in her life, Ashley and then Rhett, for help, but to no avail, she is unable to come up with the money. Faced with losing Tara, a desperate Scarlett ruins the engagement of her sister, Suellen, by soliciting the attention of Frank Kennedy, who she runs into in Atlanta while visiting Rhett. With the promise of money and security, Scarlett marries Frank, who owns a hardware store and lumber mill, and is able to save Tara. Again, Scarlett shows that the initial change she made while away from Ashley was not permanent and her selfishness continues to dominate her decisions.
After the death of her second husband, Frank, that most people blamed on Scarlett, Rhett Butler returns to the picture and asks for her hand in marriage. Scarlett agrees, after telling him that she will do so based on his money, but that she would always love another man. The two marry and flaunt their riches in their new home in Atlanta and in the restoration of Tara. Scarlett appears to have everything she ever wanted, except Ashley.
With the birth of a baby girl, who Rhett names Bonnie Blue; Scarlett again begins to change, although not for the better. A sadness and depression comes over her, and the love that she seemed to have felt for Rhett turns again to an absent Ashley. Rhett becomes aware of the change in Scarlett as well, and he begins to get angrier. After a night of passion that seems to change Scarlett for the better, Rhett informs her that he is taking Bonnie to London alone. Scarlett, who finally seemed ready to let her guard down and love another man, is heartbroken.
When Rhett arrives home after a shortened stay in London, Scarlett again seems ready to make a change for the better; however both Rhett and Scarlett are unable to concede to one another and the reuniting ends in a horrible fall that causes a pregnant Scarlett to lose the baby. As Scarlett and Rhett heal on their own terms with this accident, another unfortunate accident ends with the death of their daughter Bonnie. After a series of unfortunate events that push the couple’s relationship to a breaking point, the death of Bonnie pushes Rhett too far. The change in him is so apparent that Scarlett’s Mamie calls Melanie to try to pull him out of the darkness. However, after Melanie begins to make headway with Rhett, she falls over and it becomes apparent that she is very ill. Rhett and Scarlett go to Melanie to say their final goodbyes, and in her final moments, Melanie not only asks Scarlett to look after her son, as well as Ashley, but she also tells her to take care of Rhett because he truly loves her. As Scarlett leaves the room, she comforts a distraught Ashley, and Scarlett finally sees that his love for Melanie was true and that he never loved her. Through this realization, Scarlett understands that she never really loved Ashley, and it was Rhett whom she loved all along. When she returns home to tell Rhett, it is too late, as he is leaving Scarlett, giving her exactly what she thought she wanted. It is at this point that the total transformation of Scarlett takes place. After all of the childish antics to get Ashley Wilkes, the chase is over and she realizes that the unrequited love she felt for Ashley was never love at all. Scarlett finally transformed from a selfish, manipulative child into a woman with a heart. Scarlett was finally ready to give up the illusion of happiness she thought she could have with Ashley’s love and all the money in the world. Her illusions faded away to reality where she saw the man she truly loved walk away.
In not chasing after Rhett, it may seem as if Scarlett is letting him go. However, Scarlett is showing that her impulsive nature to have everything right away had changed, and she realized that she needed to return to the one place that made her truly happy, Tara. In Tara, she would be able to think about a way to prove her true love for Rhett. And in leaving Atlanta and returning to Tara, Scarlett acts by leaving Ashley and being responsible for her life’s decisions. Scarlett finally became a mature woman who was ready to love a real person, and not a dream. In this moment, Scarlett becomes the woman she always wanted to be, a woman more like her mother, whom she always admired.
It’s a Wonderful Life
In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey, who seems to be the nice guy with little in his life to change, goes through a significant transformation throughout the movie. With the hope of one day leaving Bedford Falls, George’s dream continues to take a secondary role as life events cause him to put his dreams on hold to help someone else. How could someone who does such selfless acts be so unhappy and even selfish?
As the story begins, a flashback through George’s life occurs as Clarence, an angel, tries to find out what his mission is. As the movie begins, the first selfless act that George endeavors is quite a large one, saving his younger brother’s life, an act that results in George becoming deaf in one ear. Throughout the flashback, we learn that George’s father owns a local bank that competes against Henry Potter, another banker and businessman, who thrives off belittling people. George dreams of getting as far away from B&L and Bedford Falls as possible. Scenes throughout the flashback continuously show him wishing for one million dollars, and he sums up his dreams by saying, “I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Coliseum. Then, I’m comin’ back here to go to college and see what they know. And then I’m gonna build things. I’m gonna build airfields, I’m gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I’m gonna build bridges a mile long.” George believes that his life is best suited for adventure and knowledge and that was what he intended to do, until he received news of his father’s stroke and eventual death. In yet another seeminly selfless act, George does not go on his trip to Europe, so that he can help with B&L, after his father passed away. However, with Potter trying to take over the bank, George is essentially forced by stakeholders to stay home from college to run the bank as Executive Secretary, and sends his brother Harry to college instead. This moment shows George doing what everyone believes is the right thing to do, yet the audience does not get the impression that this was done out of the kindness of his heart because inside his heart is broken with the realization that his dream is fading.
After George Bailey gives into his love for Mary, the sister of one of his childhood friends, George’s life grows more engrained in Bedford Falls as he marries her. In one last chance to see the world, George is elated at the chance to leave Bedford Falls for his honeymoon with Mary and $2000. However, Potter yet again sees an opportunity to sabotage B&L, and George is forced to save the bank again, only with Mary’s help this time, as she offers the couple’s honeymoon money to the townspeople in need of money that the bank did not have. This starts George’s journey as a married man and one filled still with resentment and regret, as he must be questioning when it will be his chance to be happy. Even after the birth of four children, the constant need to do the right thing and be the man that everyone expects him to be seems to put an insurmountable pressure on George that causes him to have a dark side in spite of his charisma.
As the moment unravels that shows us why Clarence is needed to help George Bailey, we learn that Uncle Billy lost the $8000 he was to deposit at the bank, as he inadvertently handed it to Potter. With the fate of B&L in his hands, George attempts to unsuccessfully bargain with Potter for a loan to save the bank and himself from going to prison, Potter makes a comment that George would be better off dead since he had a $15,000 life insurance policy that could save the bank and the town. After drinking heavily, George crashes his car and begins to contemplate suicide, but is stopped when Clarence, the angel, beats him to jumping off of the bridge, and George jumps in to save Clarence.
In an attempt to show George the impact his life has had on others, Clarence opens George’s eyes to what life would be like without him in it. As George is taken through the lives of everyone he loves, Mary, his mother, Mr. Gower and the noticeably absent brother, Harry, to see where they would be without him, we learn that everyone’s lives are miserable. In fact, his brother, Harry, died the day that George would have saved him, but no one was there, and thus, so did all the men Harry saved while fighting in World War II. George’s eyes are open to a whole new dark world that shows what a wonderful life George had in reality. In a line that sums up the realization George finally comes to, Clarence says, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives, and when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” (Capra, 1946).
George finally realizes his life, family, friends and town are worth fighting for, as he begs Clarence to take him back. George chooses to live and fight Potter for another day. By doing so, George selflessly saves so many people, only this time it was for the right reason. George finally made a decision that was without outside influence. In this moment, George truly transforms into the hero that he had always been, only this time it was on his own terms. George transforms from a person who did the right things for the wrong reasons to a person who did the right things because he actually wanted to. He finally lets go of the dreams he had for himself to realize that his dreams had already come true. In a moment of pure joy, George returns to his family a changed man, and finds that Mary was able to round up the townspeople to save George in her own way. She collected $8000 from everyone whom George had helped in the past. The outpouring of support and love in this scene shows that George’s decision to live and fight another day was the right one.
Three Powerful Transformations
These three movies, Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, and It’s a Wonderful Life, highlight three character’s transformations from one person to another. In three different ways, we see how the course of events over a certain time period can influence decisions that characters make and in turn who the character becomes. These three movies show powerful transformations of characters that were very much alone and selfish in their own way, and were able to utilize a series of life decisions to become selfless, loving and determined characters.
Capra, F. (Producer), & Capra, F. (Director). (1946). It’s a wonderful life [ Motion picture]. United States: Liberty Films.
Goodreads, Inc. (n.d.). Tim Burton Quotes. Retrieved on August 28, 2012 from http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/5773.Tim_Burton
Selznick, D. (Producer), & Fleming, V. (Director). (1939). Gone with the wind [ Motion picture]. United States: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Wallis, H.B. (Producer), & Curtiz, M. (Director). (1942). Casablanca [ Motion picture]. United States: Warner Bros. Pictures.