No Exit

No Exit

No Exit is a 1944 existentialist play by Jean-Paul Sartre, originally published in French as Huis Clos (meaning in camera or "behind closed doors"). English translations have also been performed under the titles In Camera, No Way Out, and Dead End. Huis Clos was first performed at the Vieux-Colombier in May 1944, just before the liberation of Paris in World War II.

The play features only four characters (one of whom, the Valet, appears for only a very limited time), and one set. No Exit is the source of perhaps Sartre's most famous quotation, "Hell is other people." (In French, "l'enfer, c'est les autres"). It has been adapted in cinema many times, notably in 1954 by Jacqueline Audry.

Plot synopsis

The play begins with the Valet leading a man named Garcin into a room that the audience soon realizes is in hell (hell may be a gigantic hotel, in light of the "rooms and passages" mentioned in the play). The room has no windows, no mirrors, and only one door. Eventually Garcin is joined by a woman, Inès, and then another, Estelle. After their entry, the Valet leaves and the door is shut and locked. All expect to be tortured, but no torturer arrives. Instead, they realize they are there to torture each other, which they do effectively, by probing each other's sins, desires, and unpleasant memories. At first, the three see events concerning themselves that are happening on Earth, but eventually (as their connection to Earth dwindles and the living move on) they are left with only their own thoughts and the company of the other two. Near the end of the play, Garcin demands he be let out; at his words the door flies open, however, none of the three will leave. This is due partly to the substantial heat and fear of the unknown, but can be attributed most to Garcin's desire for validation from Inez that he is not a coward.


Garcin – Garcin is the first character to whom the audience is introduced. He is a Brazilian whose sins are cowardice and callousness (which also motivated the suicide of his wife after his death). 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 breakfast, 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). In the American adaptation of the play, the character's name is changed to Vincent Cradeau.

Inès – 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, throughout the play manipulating Estelle's and Garcin's opinions of themselves and of each other. She is the only character who is honest about the evil deeds she, Garcin, and Estelle have done. She commonly acknowledges the fact that she is a cruel person.

Estelle – Estelle is a high-society woman, a blonde who married her husband for his money and cuckolded him with a younger man. To her, the affair is merely an insignificant fling, whereas her lover becomes emotionally attached to her. She drowns the illegitimate child that results, 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).

Valet – The Valet enters the room with each character, but his only real dialog is with Garcin. It is never made clear in the play whether the Valet's job is his by choice, by birth, or as punishment. We do learn that his uncle is the head valet.

Film adaptations

  • Huis clos (1954), directed by Jacqueline Audry
  • No Exit (1962), directed by Tad Danielewski
  • No Exit (2006), directed by Etienne Kallos

Operatic adaptation

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.

References in popular culture

  • In Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, one of the girl campers can be seen with an open copy of the play on top of her as she sleeps.
  • An episode of Futurama, "Hell Is Other Robots", takes its title from the famous line "Hell is other people."
  • An episode of The West Wing bears the name of the play. The episode portrays a lockdown of the White House, leaving many of the characters trapped together in pairs. In some cases this leads to unpleasant conversations as in the play.
  • In an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation ("Eleven Angry Jurors") in which one of twelve jurors is murdered by one of the other eleven, Grissom is heard quoting Sartre.
  • Also in a CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode, Greg sees someone listening to No Exit in French. on a tape recording.
  • In the movie Puccini for Beginners, the main character Allegra sits in a park on a bench and says: "It's hell being alone." Immediately a woman responds: "No honey, hell is other people."
  • In an episode of Recess, while pursuing the mysterious library girl, Gretchen directs the group to corner the girl in the Existentialism section because there is "No exit".
  • In the Gossip Girl book You Know You Love Me, the character Dan Humphrey recommends it to the It-girl character, Serena van der Woodsen.
  • In the film Beetlejuice when the main characters sit in an afterlife waiting room, a sign behind them reads "No Exit".
  • In the Song "Go to Hell" from the album Swansong by death metal band Carcass, "Hell is other people" is a lyric sung by Jeff Walker.
  • In an episode of BBC sitcom Game On entitled "Matthew, A Suitable Case For Treatment", the character Mandy (played by Samantha Janus) compares her living arrangement with her flatmates Matthew and Martin to the play. She erroneously states that the characters are two men and a woman as opposed to two women and a man.
  • In filmmaker Woody Allen's Anything Else (2003), the character Amanda (played by Christina Ricci) gives Jerry (played by Jason Biggs) a copy of "No Exit" and "The Flies" (another Sartre piece) on their anniversary.
  • In the book House of Leaves, it is referenced on page 399 with regards to Navidson's dreams and how they were shaped by Huis Clos.
  • The fifth track of the Jonas Hellborg/Shawn Lane/Jeff Sipe live album, "Personae" is entitled "Hell is Other People."
  • In the Harvey Danger song "Diminishing Returns" is the line 'Hell is other people; some people never learn'
  • Terry Pratchett's novel Eric, a re-imagining of Goethe's Faust, depicts Hell as a hotel.
  • An episode of The CW television series 'Supernatural'' in season 2 is titled "No Exit".
  • Season 4, episode 8 of the USA Network series The 4400 is titled "No Exit." The characters are trapped in a dreamlike zone and have to work together to find their way out.
  • Fates Warning's fourth album. No Exit, was named after this play.
  • Hell = Other People is a song by the indie band Bettie Serveert.
  • The video for the Rainer Maria song Ears Ring is clearly based on No Exit, and features all three band members trapped together inside a small diner — each isolated and sitting alone, yet all clearly tortured by the others' behavior and mannerisms. This is even briefly referenced when drummer William Kuehn initially enters the diner carrying a tattered softback copy of No Exit.

Notes and references

External links


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