The importance of a hill of beans

I brought out a DVD of Casablanca (purchased in 1995) and watched it with my kids. Surprisingly they enjoyed a movie made nearly 80 years ago. If I had watched an 80-year-old movie when I was in high school, it would have been silent. Probably not as enjoyable.

What is Casablanca about? Very few people would say it’s a story about World War II. It’s a story of war-torn lovers, of a man who loses and (spoiler alert) regains his faith; it’s a story about many things, but WWII is just the setting. It could be – and has been – remade in different locales without changing the core themes.

The movie explores that dichotomy of focus, with characters acting in support of the greater cause or for selfish needs. In the final scene, Rick once again compares the two when he famously states that “it doesn’t take a genius to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” But of course, we know this isn’t true. It isn’t true within the world of the film – since Rick is lying to convince Ilsa to leave with Victor Laszlo –  but it also isn’t true in regard to the movie itself; it’s the love triangle that has made the story compelling over generations.

You don’t worry about the outcome of the war when you watch Casablanca because it’s totally out of your control and a part of history. But really – are current circumstances any more under your control than something that happened nearly a century before? A worldwide event is happening as we watch and most of us have as little power over it as events that occurred when our grandparents were young. And yet, the news and commentary is increasingly demanding and probably receiving our attention. There is some value to being informed, but is our consumption proportional to that value? Are we spending an appropriate amount of time on the wider world, watching, listening, reading, worrying, fretting, and raging?

What if instead we shift our focus to the circle in which we actually have influence? If you are reading this right now, then there is almost certainly someone you interact with who is worse off than you – in terms of physical, financial, or emotional health. Consider what an hour spent helping them could do, when compared to another hour watching the news. You might be able to provide real assistance. Or maybe just a little virtual social contact to connect, support, or listen. Whatever you do, it’s likely to be more valuable to both of you than another hour of watching the world churn.

Even Rick, world-weary and jaded, trapped in a near-hopeless situation, found that he could make a difference, one act at a time. To a needy Bulgarian couple. To his employees. To three little people in a crazy world.

World War II is not the story of Casablanca, it’s just the setting. The backdrop. And this pandemic is just the backdrop of your life. It’s not your story. You and those around you are the real stars, and you get to write your own part. What role will you play? What kind of story will you make it?

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2 thoughts on “The importance of a hill of beans

  1. I agree with most of your comments. That said, sometimes its ok to really like a movie because it’s great entertainment; not flashy sets or fancy special effects , just great characters and great acting. If you haven’t seen “To have and have not”, “Key Largo”, and ” The Big Sleep”, you should. Better put on your thinking cap for the last one; it gets tricky to follow ;). Stay well!


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