Example Of Nonverbal Communication In Casablanca Movie Review
A classical movie directed in 1942 by Michael Cortiz, starring Humphrey Boggart and Ingrid Bergman into one of the most famous romantic dramas of all times, “Casablanca” denotes various symbols, defining verbally and non-verbally the environment and tensions between nations in the Second World War. The movie includes significant scenes, wherein the characters employ non-verbal communication for speaking their mind and expressing their feelings, thoughts or attitudes.
Such a remarkable scene is the meeting between Major Heinrich Strasser, Captain Louis Renault, Heir Heinz and Rick Blaine at Rick’s Café Americane. The two Germans, guided by the French Captain, came to Casablanca with the intention of capturing Victor Laszlo, a prominent figure from Czechoslovakia in the war against Germany, wanted by Germany. They employ Rick in a discussion, with the purpose of making sure that the owner of the bar will not help Laszlo escape from Casablanca. The discussion is filled with nonverbal communication elements that include oculesics, proxemics, haptics, kinetics, paralanguage and vocalics.
When Rick reaches near the table where Captain Renault and his French Germans were sitting, Renault approached him, introducing him to the two German officials. As he meets Major Heinrich Strasser, Rick politely salutes him, while he avoids looking him in the eye, which shows a sign of contempt. Rick also measures Strasser with his eyes, when he hears his name, which indicates that he quickly analyzes his German guest. His position, staying closer to Renault, leaving an empty space between himself and Major Strasser is a proxemics element that suggests Rick’s intentions of keeping away from the German and his cause. The lack of hands shake or any movement between Rick and the Germans is a haptic sign that Rick does not want their friendship. When Captain Renault introduces Rick to Heir Heinz, the latter keeps a straight, focused and tensed facial figure, starring at Rick, which is an oculesics sign of distrust. The corners of Heinz’ mouth were facing down, showing his indignation towards Rick, while the lack of any body or figure movement suggests lack of respect for Rick.
Captain Renault, acting as the Germans’ local ambassador, presents Strasser as “one of the reasons for which the Third Reich enjoys the reputation it has today” (Cortiz 23:15), accentuating “Third Reich” and using a personal intonation for referring to its “reputation”. Renault masks his real thoughts through the diplomatic words that he chooses, while he employs the paralanguage and vocalis for stating his actual thoughts and attitudes: his disgust for the Third Reich’s reputation and his personal doubt that the Third Reich will last for long. When he verbally confirms this latter idea to Strasser, he avoids looking him into the eyes, while boldly grasping an eye to the other German representative, an oculesics sign expressing Renault’s self-assurance, even a provocation addressed to his German counterparts.
The fact that Major Strasser chooses to move his focus from Renault, who had just insulted the Reich, to Rick, is a kinetics element that denotes the German’s intention of avoiding a conflict with diplomacy. As he turns towards Rick, he changes his disgruntled attitude into a diplomatic smile, watching Rick into his eyes. He later diverts his sight to a cake in front of him, while he mentions to Rick that he would like to ask him something unofficially. This oculesics communication channel is meant to express Strasser’s acknowledgment that Rick is an independent individual, who is not obliged to answer formal questions, and that the Major will not use his functions for this purpose.
As he asks Rick if he is “one of those people who cannot imagine the Germans in their beloved Paris” (Cortiz 23:45), Major Strasser uses a personal intonation for punctuating the entire question. Besides this paralanguage, which denotes that Strasser’s mocks those he describes, the Major also watches Rick furtively, which is an oculesics element that expresses a challenge. The major challenges Rick, by intentionally bantering Paris, wherein he knows Rick has lived before. Rick’s answer starts with an eyebrows lift, a facial expression that stands for a self-explanatory answer that he immediately expresses verbally: “Not particularly my beloved Paris”. Rick also punctuates “my”, a paralanguage channel used for accentuating the fact that he does not consider himself in the category that Strasser mentioned and mocked. With this answer and his facial expression, Rick refuses the Major’s challenge. However, as he answers to Major Strasser he looks down, which is a sign of sadness and nostalgia associated with Paris.
Later, when Major Strasser questions him about New York, Rick answers that he would not advise him to endeavor in New York. Again, Rick uses oculesics (eyebrows lift), paralanguage (word punctuation) and vocalis (specific intonation) for actually communicating to the Major to stay out of United States, which in the context of the World War II has a significantly strategic meaning.
As the discussion moves on Victor Laszlo, the Major speaks between his teeth about Laszlo’s actions against the Reich, a facial expression that denotes his antipathy for the Czechoslovakian, and disapproval for his actions. Captain Renault’s affirmation that Laszlo has “great courage” (Cortiz 25:02), while looking down at his glass, shaking his head with admiration and smiling, are nonverbal communication channels that suggest his appreciation for Laszlo’s work. Strasser looks directly at Rick when he mentions that Germany intends not to let Laszlo escape again. Major Strasser uses oculesics and facial expression (lifting his eyebrows while grasping Rick), for threatening Rick that he will suffer consequences if he will not collaborate with the Reich for capturing Laszlo. Rick’s attitude at the end of the scene surprises his guests. He gets up from his chair, a kinetics indication that he does not accept Strasser’s threats and that the conversation is over.
Various nonverbal elements are comprised into this scene, for describing the power dynamics, announcing challenges and threats, tension, antipathy, distrust or mockery. All these untold feelings and attitudes create a new perspective upon the scene and the entire movie, providing significant information about the international relationships between Germany, French, United States and Czechoslovakia during the Second World War.
Curtiz, Michael. Casablanca. California: Warner Bros. 1942. Movie.
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