Without sacrifice, we have no ending to this movie. For about an hour and a half, everyone except Laszlo and maybe Annina is looking out only for himself or herself, and then in about two minutes, it's a virtual sacrifice extravaganza.
Rick sacrifices his love for Ilsa and puts himself in peril in order to do the right thing. Ilsa sacrifices her feelings for Rick and leaves with Victor. Renault sacrifices the security of his post by siding with Rick. All these sacrifices are seen as ennobling the characters, and they leave us something to feel good about after the love story doesn't work out as planned. People do the right thing, even if it isn't happily-ever-after.
Questions About Sacrifice
Rick sacrifices his feelings for Ilsa to see that she's safe. But Ilsa says she wants to stay with Rick. So isn't making that decision a little unfair to her?
What are some of the things that Victor and Ilsa have sacrificed in order to continue fighting for what they believe in?
The Nazis, Strasser included, pretty much sacrificed their morals when they started capturing and killing innocent people. Do you think they saw it that way?
Renault seemed to be under the thumb of the Gestapo for most of the film. What do you think caused him to sacrifice the security of his position on the police force?
Chew on This
It may seem that Rick was making a sacrifice when he let Ilsa go, but because what he really wanted was to ensure the safety of someone who could be detrimental to the Nazis, he wasn't really making a sacrifice at all.
By agreeing to go with Victor, Ilsa was making a greater sacrifice than if she'd chosen to stay with Rick and face possible death.