The hero’s journey and Casablanca: teaching the monomyth

Casablanca has it all: moving love story; awesome art; and captivating characters. It is a classic movie that millions of people watch over and over again. However, did you know that Casablanca was also an example of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey? Here’s how to turn the movie into a useful tool for teaching the hero’s journey.

The hero of Casablanca embarks on a search for personal growth and development. Rick has lost his way, consumed by bitterness and longing. When he discovers that he can have what he has wanted for so long, he abandons everything for a cause and, in doing so, finds his way again. However, when the story is analyzed from the point of view of the hero’s journey, first identified by Joseph Campbell, it clearly contains each of the twelve stages of the Monomith.

Learning about the hero’s journey is no easy task, and dividing up the readings and classroom reading can have a profound impact on how students internalize and understand the lesson. Before showing the students Casablanca, describe the concept of the hero’s journey. Provide them with a worksheet that they can complete during the scheduled breaks in the movie.

When discussing the hero’s journey with your class, simply go through the twelve stages of the concept, noting that at times, like in Casablanca, the steps can seem messy. The first thing to establish is a quick summary of the hero’s journey shown in the movie. Who is the hero? What happened to him or her? One answer is that Rick progresses from a self-centered cynic to a caring individual, capable of sacrificing a life with the woman he loves for the greater good of opposing fascism.

Working individually, in pairs, or in class, describe actions in the film that could manifest the twelve stages of the hero’s journey. Remember, some characters, like Laszlo, can have more than one role in the story and one or more of the stages or archetypes (like the Trickster) can be omitted or combined. Make lists of characters to identify the archetypes of the hero’s journey that appear in the film, and for each character, describe the role it plays in telling the story of the film.

Casablanca is a special movie that, with a little planning, can be used to teach students about the hero’s journey. Giving students the ability to recognize this archetype and training them to apply it in different circumstances is a solid lesson that they will use for years to come.

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