In Casablanca, the prominent themes of unhappy love and self-sacrifice set this romantic melodrama apart from most in its genre. These themes are best expressed in the interactions of the three main characters: Victor Laszlo, a heroic political leader; Ilsa Lund, an enigmatic femme fatale; and Richard (Rick) Blaine, a seemingly morally ambiguous night club owner. An unusual love triangle forms with the two men's mutual love for the intermediary woman. Unlike the archetypal romantic triangle which includes the betrayed husband and the victorious lover, this situation results in unhappiness and loss for all involved. All three are willing to sacrifice for this love, regardless of the suffering that results from its pursuit. .
Victor is portrayed as an idealistic leader, whose unwavering devotion to his political cause is only challenged by his tremendous love for his wife. He is, in every respect, a virtuous human. In fact, his only possible short-coming seems to be his lack of romantic passion or intimacy with his wife. However, he suggests, in his own self-sacrificial offer, that Rick "use the letters to take her away from Casablanca." Not only is Victor sacrificing his wife to another man, he is also giving up his only chance to escape from the almost certain death he faces in Casablanca. Victor's courageous offer demonstrates the depth of his love for his wife. In the end, Victor must live unhappily with the knowledge that Ilsa is not truly his; she remains with him because of her love for another man. .
Ilsa is one of the most enigmatic figures in this story. She is torn between her passionate love for Rick and her vows of marriage to Victor. She is deluded by her confusing feelings for her husband. She loves him as a "heroic father figure." Her inescapable love for Rick causes her to completely surrender her will to his judgment. She offers to willingly sacrifice herself to him in a loving, but adulterous relationship.