What does Katz’s deli in the picture have to do with Casablanca? Here’s a clue. When Harry Met Sally. That’s right. In the movie, Harry and Sally have this profound conversation about whether Ilsa should have stayed back with Rick Blaine instead of getting on the plane with Victor Laszlo.
Years later, I read this book called ‘Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts’ by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. The book is about cognitive dissonance and how justifying all actions regardless of whether they were right or wrong, hurtful or not, is a necessary mechanism to protect ourselves emotionally.
The book and the movie came back fresh to my mind recently because we were invited to a Casablanca theme party. I started researching what Rick and Ilsa wore. No man wants to dress like Victor. I dug deep into my closet, wishing the party had a Bollywood theme instead. Luckily for me, I had this pewter-colored bridesmaid dress that I wore only once before. I remember asking the bride why she chose pewter instead of a brighter, more vibrant color. “You are not the bride.” Hmmm. Placing the order for this dress was a pretty interesting experience. The dress was already chosen by the bride. I just needed to call this number for a place that sells wedding dresses, with my dimensions and credit card number. “Whose wedding are you calling about, honey?” I give the first names of the bride and groom to this loud woman with a rough voice, at the other end of the phone somewhere in Long Island. “What’s your first and last name, honey?” I say my first and last name. “Hahhhaaahhhaaa…That must be a difficult last name to live with, honey. Hahhhhahhhaaaaaa……” “What’s so funny about it? The word is difficult to pronounce but if you say it ten times a day, you will not get Alzheimer’s.” “Ok. Ok. Okay. Tell me your measurements, honey.” I give her my measurements. “No one is perfect – right, honey?” “Wait a minute. I am perfect.” “But not in this respect.” “Come on. I am perfect in every way.” “We’ll argue that later, honey. We’ll order size (_) dress and alter it per your measurements. You need to come in for a trial on (date). What’s your credit card number, honey?” If the groom was not my brother, I would not have proceeded with this transaction……
I watched Casablanca few weeks ago in preparation for this party. Love or no love, Ilsa does pull a gun at Rick in order to get the letters of transit so that she and particularly Victor could go to America. When that doesn’t work, she melts down and sleeps with him. That’s a 180 degree turn right there. As the movie ends, it really didn’t seem like Rick wanted to get on the plane with Ilsa and leave behind a life he knows and go towards an unpredictable future in America. Patriotism and supporting Victor in his cause against the Nazis – sure!
The question Harry is distressed over – why would you leave Rick for Victor – is not really a question – per the book on cognitive dissonance. Ilsa’s decision was neither right nor wrong. Rick never meant to get on the plane with Ilsa. Having gotten over the bitterness following the heartbreak he suffers in Paris, because of the revelation that Ilsa had honestly believed that her husband was dead, he chose to trade a lifetime of romance with Ilsa for a lifetime of friendship with Louis. In the end, Louis is happy. Victor is happy. Ilsa is happy. And so is Rick.
(P.S. For the first time in my blog, I used a picture from google images as my own picture of Katz deli didn’t turn out right. I did not see any copyright mentioned in the image.)