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Cinematic Psychiatry of Unrequited Love

Cinematic Psychiatry of Unrequited Love.

Casablanca (1942), is a quintessential American movie depicting war-time love and romance. The movie is based on a stage play Everybody Comes to Rick’s, by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. Set during early World War II, it centres on an expatriate torn between love and virtue.  Casablanca is a coastal city in Morocco. Set in 1941, early part of WWII, Rick Blaine, an expatriate is the proprietor of a swanky night-club and casino in Casablanca, called Rick’s Café. The clientele varies from refugees to professional gamblers. The café is a haven for many transients trying to exit Europe. Rick’s character is cynical, detached and professes “I stick my neck out for nobody.”  

One day a pretty face which was Rick’s past love interest enters his café. Ilsa Lund, the female protagonist of the movie along, with her husband Victor who is a famous Czech Resistance leader. Rick recalls that while in Paris, Ilsa Lund, who believed that her husband had been killed in the war, had met Rick for the first time and had instantaneously fallen in love with Rick. Unfortunately for Rick, Ilsa discovers that her husband was still alive and abruptly leaves Rick without offering an explanation to him and returns to Victor. This leaves Rick betrayed and hurt in this unrequited love.

Later, Ilsa feels that she owes an explanation to Rick and returns to the café to explain. However, Rick, saddened by fact of her return, his wounds reopened, gets punch drunk and bitterly refuses to listen to what she has to say. Eventually, she gets a chance to confesses that she still loves him and Rick does all that he possibly can to keep her. However, when we start believing that Rick would have Ilsa for the rest of his life, Rick makes Ilsa to go with her husband telling her that if she stayed back she would regret. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of her life.

Unrequited love is a complex neurobiological phenomenon, relying on trust, pleasure and reward activities within the brain. At first, every new romantic encounter is accompanied by a rush of euphoria. Every detail becomes associated with those intense feelings: places, times, fragrances, faces, or simple musical notes. Is love an addiction? Are unrequited lovers addicted to being in love? There is growing interest in the classification of certain behavioural disorders as addictive. Commonalities between compulsive disorders and substance abuse have been identified in terms of symptomatology, neurobiochemistry and adaptations in brain functioning. Unrequited love is often described as an addiction; though romantic attachment is rarely thought to be pathological.


Unrequited love has been classified as an addiction that feeds on fantasies and illusions. This is similar to the experience of a person exposed to drugs. As I have written in my blog Unrequited Love and Cocaine, despite the fact that unrequited love is connected with tension and anxiety, this state, mixed with hope of reciprocity leads the unrequited lover to feel extreme happiness to the level of euphoria. This reaction is similar to the effect of cocaine. Like cocaine, love increases the levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine in the body. Because dopamine is associated with pleasure and causes the brain to think about pleasurable moments, narcotic drugs like cocaine increase the brain’s levels of dopamine and cause addiction. This scientifically explains why unrequited lovers are addicted to the object of love.

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It has been noticed that addicts are willing to sacrifice a lot in order to obtain and consume drugs; and these self-sacrificing behaviours are also seen in a person plagued with unrequited love, as we see in this movie where Rick aids the fleeing of Ilsa and Victor, though he wasn’t someone to stick out his neck for anybody. These two behaviours are more similar than just psychologically. A deep, systematic concordance is witnessed between the neurochemicals and brain regions involved in both addiction and romantic attachment.

The partner addiction hypothesis describes this function as follows- both addiction and attachment processes are better understood in relation to the object of addiction, whether that object is a substance or a beloved. Large amounts of sensory information are gathered about the object of addiction in the initial phase of addiction. This applies to the sensory modalities appropriate for the drug in substance addiction: the smell, taste and effect; the unique experience unique of the drug etc. This information is primarily social in partner addiction: words, fragrance, body shape, face, and possibly sexual experiences.

Human love is probably the most powerful of all emotions. The psychology of unrequited love and drug addiction share powerful overlaps at many level of the addictive process, from initial encounters to withdrawal. To make it lucid, we may be addicted to the ones we love.

Please share your feedback about this article or your experiences with unrequited love in the comments section. I have been learning from all the experiences left for me in the comments section and it is your experiences that enable me to help others with my blogs.

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