The Hero’s Journey And Casablanca: Teaching The Monomyth

Casablanca has it all: moving love story; stunning artistry; and captivating characters. It’s a classic film that millions watch again and again. However, did you know that Casablanca was also an example of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey? Here’s how to turn the film into a useful tool for teaching the Hero’s Journey.

The hero in Casablanca undertakes a quest of personal growth and development. Rick has lost his way, consumed by bitterness and longing. When he finds that he can have what he has so long desired, he gives it all up for a cause and, in so doing, finds his way again. However, when the story is analyzed from the standpoint of the Hero’s Journey, first identified by Joseph Campbell, it clearly contains each of the twelve stages in the Monomyth.

Learning about the Hero’s Journey is no easy feat, and breaking up classroom lectures and reading can have a profound impact on the way students internalize and understand the lesson. Before you show students Casablanca, describe to them the concept of the Hero’s Journey. Provide them with a worksheet that they can complete during scheduled breaks in the film.

When discussing the Hero’s Journey with your class, simply move through the twelve stages of the concept, noting that sometimes, like in Casablanca, the steps can appear out of order. The first thing to establish is a quick summary of the Hero’s Journey shown in the film. 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, able to sacrifice a life with the woman he loves for the greater good of opposing fascism.

Working individually, in pairs, or as a class, describe actions in the film which might manifest the twelve stages of the Hero’s Journey. Remember, some characters, like Laszlo, can have more than one function in the story and one or more of the stages or archetypes (like the Trickster) can be skipped or combined. Make character lists to identify the archetypes of the Hero’s Journey that appear in the movie and, for each, describe the function it performs in telling the film’s story.

Casablanca is a special film 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 strong lesson and one they will use for years to come.