When one first watches Casanova, one sees the pre-dead Heath Ledger entangling himself in a bizarre love pentangle in what refuses ever to be a formulaic romantic comedy.
But he blasphemes one of romedy’s sacred cows when he says that there is no such thing as true love. “True love” is a staple of the genre and Casanova wastes no time sullying it. He does end up with one love, I suppose to appease the genre gods. But after kicking the stool out from under true love, he says that true love suggests there is such a thing as false love, as if there could be such a thing as false belief. At this moment with one succinct line, the two themes of the movie are pinned together.
The first theme is the one for popcorn eaters. You watch and think, “Oh how delightful.” But there is a true message at heart, and I shall attempt to expose it.
The movie takes place in an English-accent-speaking Venice during the reign of the Inquisition. So the notion of Belief and Heresy are there. It’s not a secret. But it’s subtle in the message it tries to convey.
Basically what is being proposed is the dichotomy of flesh and spirit. The age-old split between matter and soul. There is hedonism on one end that worships the flesh and passion. This is where Casanova stands. And then there is the Church holding fast to the notion that sexuality in any form is a distraction from God and therefore condemnable. As one inquisitor says, “A night with Casanova, an eternity in hell.”
Of course there is a third alternative that is never really explored in the movie and that is something along the lines of Sufism that suggests that human sexuality is an expression of godliness, something I’m sure Casanova would have liked to know about.
The romantic story is just smoke and mirrors for pitting humanity against religion. When there is a faux deus ex machina, it pushes the point even further suggesting that not only are our lives not in the Church’s hands, they are not even in God’s. We must make our own lives and our own choices. “What would Casanova do?” the question is posed and apes the bumper sticker slogan: “WWJD?”