cover image Casablanca’s Conscience

Casablanca’s Conscience

Robert Weldon Whalen. Fordham Univ, $25 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-5315-0480-9

Historian Whalen (Sacred Spring) aims in his scattered latest to put Hannah Arendt, Albert Camus, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer in conversation with the 1942 film Casablanca. He sets out to explore how the film’s themes of exile, irony, love, purgatory, and resistance feature in the writings and biographies of the three thinkers, but he struggles to draw meaningful takeaways from the juxtaposition. For example, Whalen offers a thoughtful consideration of how white club owner Rick Blaine’s friendship with Black pianist Sam is alternately respectful and paternalistic and discusses how several characters in Albert Camus’s novel The Plague rely on friendship to endure the eponymous disease, but he doesn’t comment on how the two representations of friendship relate to each other. A chapter on exile notes that most of Casablanca’s credited actors were refugees or immigrants and describes how Bonhoeffer, who was wanted by Nazi authorities for running illegal seminaries, escaped Germany for America in 1939, only to return out of solidarity with German Christians and later die in a concentration camp. Unfortunately, Whalen again neglects to weigh in on what’s to be learned from comparing these details. The result is a jumbled collection of fragmentary reflections that fail to cohere. (Feb.)