Cover of the Vintage edition
|Written by||Jean-Paul Sartre|
No Exit (French: Huis Clos) is a 1944 existentialist French play by Jean-Paul Sartre. The original title is the French equivalent of the legal term in camera, referring to a private discussion behind closed doors; English translations have also been performed under the titles In Camera, No Way Out, Vicious Circle, Behind Closed Doors, and Dead End. The play was first performed at the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier in May 1944.
It is a depiction of the afterlife in which three deceased characters are punished by being locked into a room together for eternity, and is the source of one of Sartre's most famous and most often misinterpreted quotations, l'enfer, c'est les autres ("Hell is other people"), a reference to Sartre's ideas about the Look, and the constant ontological struggle of being caused to see oneself as an object in the world of another consciousness.
Three damned souls, Garcin, Inès, and Estelle are brought to the same room in hell by a mysterious Valet. They had all expected medieval torture devices to punish them for eternity, but instead find a plain room furnished in the style of the Second French Empire. None of them will admit the reason for their damnation: Garcin says that he was executed for being a pacifist, while Estelle insists that a mistake has been made.
Inès, however, demands that they all stop lying to themselves and confess to their crimes. She refuses to believe that they all ended up in the room by accident and soon realizes that they have been placed together to make each other miserable. Garcin suggests that they try to leave each other alone, but Inès starts to sing about an execution and Estelle wants to find a mirror. Inès tries to seduce Estelle by offering to be her "mirror" and tell her everything she sees, but ends up frightening her instead.
After arguing they decide to confess to their crimes so they know what to expect from each other. Garcin cheated and mistreated his wife; Inès seduced her cousin's wife while living with them; and Estelle had an affair and then killed the resulting child. Despite their revelations they continue to get on each other's nerves. Garcin finally gives in to Estelle's attempts to seduce him, which drives Inès crazy. Garcin begs Estelle to tell him he is not a coward for attempting to flee his country during wartime. While she complies, Inès tells him that Estelle is just agreeing with him so she can be with a man. This causes Garcin to attempt an escape. After trying to open the door repeatedly, it suddenly opens wildly, but he is unable to leave. He says that he will not be saved until Inès has faith in him. She refuses, saying it's obvious he's a coward, and promising to make him miserable forever. Estelle, infuriated by her treatment of Garcin, tries to kill Inès, stabbing her repeatedly. As they are all already dead, this attack does nothing - bemused, Inès even stabs herself. Shocked at the absurdity of his fate, Garcin concludes, "hell is other people" - not torture devices or physical punishment, but the torment of those he can't escape. The play ends with the three joining in prolonged laughter before resigning themselves to spending the rest of eternity together.
Joseph Garcin – His sins are cowardice and callousness (which caused his young wife to die "of grief" after his execution). He deserted the army during World War II, and he blatantly cheated on his wife – he even brings his affairs home and gets her to make them coffee in bed, without any sympathy. Initially, he hates Inès because she understands his weakness, and lusts after Estelle because he feels that if she treats him as a man he will become manly. However, by the end of the play he understands that because Inès understands the meaning of cowardice and wickedness, only absolution at her hands can redeem him (if indeed redemption is possible).
Inès Serrano – Inès is the second character to enter the room. A lesbian postal clerk, her sin is turning a wife against her husband, twisting the wife's perception of her spouse and the subsequent murder of the man (who is Inès' cousin). Indeed, Inès seems to be the only character who understands the power of opinion, manipulating Estelle's and Garcin's opinions of themselves and of each other throughout the play. She is the only character who is honest about the evil deeds she, Garcin, and Estelle have done. She frankly acknowledges the fact that she is a cruel person.
Estelle Rigault – Estelle is a high-society woman, a blonde who married an older man for his money and had an affair with a younger man. To her, the affair is merely an insignificant fling, whereas her lover becomes emotionally attached to her and she bears him a child. She drowns the child by throwing it into the lake, which drives her lover to commit suicide. Throughout the play she makes advances towards Garcin, seeking to define herself as a woman in relation to a man. Her sins are deceit and murder (which also motivated a suicide). She lusts over "manly men", which Garcin himself strives to be.
Valet – The Valet enters the room with each character, but his only real dialogue is with Garcin. We learn little about him, except that his uncle is the head valet, and that he does not have any eyelids, which links to Garcin because Garcin's eyelids are atrophied.
The play was widely praised when it was first performed. Upon its 1946 American premiere at the Biltmore Theatre, critic Stark Young described the play as "a phenomenon of the modern theatre - played all over the continent already," in The New Republic and wrote that "It should be seen whether you like it or not."
- Huis clos (1954), directed by Jacqueline Audry
- No Exit (1962), directed by Tad Danielewski
- No Exit (2006), directed by Etienne Kallos
- In Camera (BBC 1964), adapted for television and directed by Philip Saville
- Vicious Circle (BBC 1985) starring Omar Sharif, Jeanne Moreau and Cherie Lunghi 
A one-act chamber opera based on the play was created by composer Andy Vores. The production had its world premiere on April 25, 2008 at the Boston Conservatory’s Zack Theatre. Vores' opera premiered in Chicago in October 2009 by Chicago Opera Vanguard.
Talk Show From Hell, a modernized parody by Jean-Noel Fenwick, was produced by the Open Fist Theatre in Los Angeles, CA, in 2000.
The ending of the final episode of Seinfeld would seem to be inspired by this.
Notes and references
- Wallace Fowlie, Dionysus in Paris (New York: Meridian Books, inc., 1960) page 173.
- Danto, Arthur (1975). "Chapter 4: Shame, or, The Problem of Other Minds". Jean-Paul Sartre.
- Young, Stark. (9 December 1946). "Weaknesses". The New Republic, pp. 764.
- “On (and off) track,” Boston Phoenix, April 29, 2008
- Foley, F. Kathleen (April 14, 2000). "In the Lively Sartre Parody 'Talk Show,' Hell Isn't Half Bad". Los Angeles Times.
- Zicree, Marc Scott (1982). The Twilight Zone Companion (Second ed.). Sillman-James Press. p. 234.
- Tucker, Matthew (21 Novermber 2012). "The Upstairs Room (REVIEW): An Apocalyptic Vision Of London". Huffington Post. Retrieved 7 December 2012.
- O'Hara, David K (2012). The Upstairs Room. London: Methuen Drama. p. 96. ISBN 1472515102.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: No Exit|
- No Exit Script
- No Exit at Sparknotes.com
- In Camera at the Internet Movie Database
- No Exit at A.R.T. 2006 production of No Exit at the American Repertory Theater