So because basically he's all "In one of the gin joints, in all of the lousy towns in the world - and then she walks in!" They had a history, you see, but you don't know that. You find out later. He'd already had a history himself: a real idealist, mercenary type. Running guns, participating in losing revolutions, he thought he was pretty much "all man" and knew the difference. But he had to take a little break in Paris, between gigs, didn't he? It must have been fate at hand, that day - because next thing you know, she meets this guy and they're being all coy and joyfully mysterious about their pasts. Drinking, smoking, implying sex, it was as if it was a game to them. A game they'd heard about before - no time for it, then. But now, it was a game they could both afford to play, because it was so plain they'd already secretly won. Somehow, by that point, what did the past matter?
As it turns out, plenty. He was kidding himself otherwise. He thought he was the one from the big dark past with shadowy crap in it, meanwhile she herself was just about as rough and tumble a revolutionary as he'd been - and worse, even more willing to sacrifice what's worth living for, even more willing to sacrifice everything for a hard, bad cause: whatever's right. Next thing you know, like a chump in the rain clutching a note, all the meaning in the world was running away and he finally realized that train wasn't ever going there. Somebody lied, or maybe somebody just didn't say the truth out loud. It amounted to the same thing: beans. One hill.
By then, naturally the only thing left with meaning in life was to go crawl to some Gottforsaken desert hole and act mister big shot in a white tuxedo jacket, play coy and mysterious with suave, brutal German honchos, wink sarcastically at the disgusting antics of that barbarous French sheriff, bandy a lot of banter with Sidney Greenstreet and assorted other characters, and then what? Everybody's sitting there by this point going, "the dialogue is delicious!" "How can this man possibly have so much savoir faire and yet care so little about it?" He can't. Nobody can. It's because they don't know the history. Then she walks in with it.
Ingrid Bergman was treated so cruelly in that movie, as you know. The story's famous, and as it happens, it goes that they shot both endings. All along the way - even in the flashback scene, where realistically she shouldn't have even been thinking about it! - the actress had no idea which man she's going to end up with! Much like life, really, but a cruel way to treat an actress. How's she supposed to describe an arc? When she knows somewhere out there, in the future, an alternate ending DVD extra has already happened - and was released. And was the real film, in that universe. And in that universe, everybody said "Ah! Casablanca. A slight film, a charming film, a film with wit and characters - not much heft to it, but at least there's a happy ending! That much is certain, those two were made to end up together, early, often, and ever after. What a piece of business."
And so she had no idea what universe she was living in. And she looked it! She looked like she came in from a better one, still had hopes of getting back there. But at the point of her crisis, she gave up on love for what was right. He, meanwhile, gave up on love because of what was right. That's also why he gave up on what was right, or had been. He'd found out by then what was worth living for. What's right isn't it. Not a broken man, just a bent animal in a white tuxedo jacket and a sense of style, both of which fit perfectly. And by then, she walked in.
God damn it I hope I never hear that song again. But if she can stand it, so can I.
I learned all those same lessons he did, when I first saw the film. And I was deeply moved because it was just a movie. That's what consoles us to these things, that's what reconciles us to movies. Later, I was sitting in a gin joint in some forsaken town in the real world, or what suddenly no longer passed for it: because all of a sudden, she walks in.
It's all a lot of history, and it never amounts to much. The right person got on the plane, that's all that matters. It took me forever to realize that the whole time, she didn't know who she was going to end up with.