Humphrey Bogart and The Knucklehead

The Knucklehead is 12.

It’s time. The Knucklehead is ready for his first viewing of Casablanca.

Notice I said “first viewing.” Like great books, and even a few albums, great films teach you different lessons at different points in your life. You’ll come to the same work years apart later, and you’ll be amazed how much you had missed the first time. Maybe not “missed,” but another layer or two you didn’t find the first time. It’s as if the book (or film) is a teacher, and a few years later, you’re ready for the next lesson. One of my earliest experiences with this was reading Tennessee Williams’ A Glass Menagerie first in high school, then in college, then again maybe 10 years later. It takes you back to what was on your mind the first time, even while it shines a light on your current hopes and worries. Casablanca has that power as well.

Plus it’s one of the most accessible classic films I’ve ever seen. We have a name for important movies that every film student really needs to see: Vegetable Movies. As in “eat your vegetables, they’re good for you.” Vegetable movies are mostly seen for they lessons they teach us, either about ethics, history, or filmmaking, and Casablanca is one of those vegetable movies that’s a hoot as well. So even if the 12-year-old Knucklehead isn’t “ready” for Casablanca, he’ll find it entertaining at the least.

So we watch the movie, and he’s paying attention. My mind is racing as we watch, trying to anticipate every question on adult relationships he might come up with. Will he get the pain, the yearning? Will he understand the torment Rick and Ilsa had to endure at seeing each other again? Will he understand Rick’s heroism? Will he understand Victor’s heroism (the man was no dummy, he had to know there was something going on)? How do I answer these questions?

By the end of the film, I think I’m ready. “That was good,” The Knucklehead tells me.

“Do you have any questions?”

“Yes.” Deep breath, here we go.

“So,” The Knucklehead asks, “were the Nazis in charge, or weren’t they?”

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