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Theatre / No Exit

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"This bronze. Yes, now's the moment; I'm looking at this thing on the mantelpiece, and I understand that I'm in hell. I tell you, everything's been thought out beforehand. They knew I'd stand at the fireplace stroking this thing of bronze, with all those eyes intent on me. Devouring me. What? Only two of you? I thought there were more; many more. So this is hell. I'd never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the burning marl, Old wives' tales! There's no need for red-hot pokers. HELL IS—OTHER PEOPLE!"

A classic play by Jean-Paul Sartre that's highly popular in Existentialism, No Exit is an often darkly comic look at the Self-Inflicted Hell faced by its three characters. They are Joseph Garcin, an insecure journalist; Inès Serrano, a lesbian postal clerk, and Estelle Rigault, a beautiful and charming young aristocrat.

Contains examples of:

  • Ask a Stupid Question...: Once he gets over the fact that he's not being sent to a Fire and Brimstone Hell, Garcin asks why he's not been given a toothbrush. The Valet explains this is common for new arrivals.
    The Valet: All our guests ask me the same questions. Silly questions, if you'll pardon my saying so. Where's the torture-chamber? That's the first thing they ask, all of them. They don't bother their heads about the bathroom requisites, that I can assure you. But after a bit, when they've got their nerve back, they start in about their toothbrushes and what-not.
  • Asshole Victim: Garcin and Estelle at first insist that they're in hell because of a mistake. They aren't. Inès at least is very well aware that she was an evil person and had this coming.
  • At Least I Admit It: Inès is the first to realize that they're in Hell, and she makes no bones about what a terrible person she was. Garcin and Estelle, by contrast, attempt to keep up their genteel facades for a while, over which she browbeats them relentlessly. Eventually it's Garcin who suggests they all come clean and admit why they've been damned.
  • Attention Whore: All three of them, which is a major reason they're perfect for tormenting each other— they're completely incapable of leaving each other alone.
  • Badass Pacifist: Garcin thinks he's this, but he's really a Dirty Coward.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Estelle appears nice at first, but she's truly vicious.
  • Bottle Episode: An extreme example, in that the entire play takes place in the one room, where the characters are condemned to stay for ever.
  • Brutal Honesty: Inès doesn't mince her words.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Inès is quite self-aware of what a terrible person she is.
  • The Casanova: Garcin. One of his flaws is his lust.
  • Cell Phones Are Useless: A precursor to cell phones, when showing off the room the Valet draws attention to the service bell that the characters are to ring if they want something from the staff. He casually points out that the wiring on the bell is bad and it tends to be unreliable, never ringing when someone actually needs something. Sure enough, the bell breaks immediately after the Valet leaves, and only serves to mockingly reinforce the fact that our characters are sealed in together alone.
  • Coitus Uninterruptus: In life, Garcin was fond of bringing his conquests home in full view of his wife, and making her serve them coffee in bed. He does it with Estelle during the course of the play whilst Inès offers running commentary, in a very awkward scene.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Hell involves locking you in a small hotel room with two similarly unpleasant people... forever. Better yet, the door isn't locked. It even pops open near the end. No one has the nerve to leave. It's implied that the door will only open at a time when the people in the room won't decide to leave.
  • Dead to Begin With: Our characters are introduced entering the hotel, which is Hell.
  • Dirty Coward: Garcin deserted and met his end by firing squad.
  • Domestic Abuse: Garcin was emotionally abusive to his wife, whom he also openly cheated on. That more than his deserting the army sent him to Hell.
  • Epiphanic Prison: The door pops open into the end, allowing the characters to leave. None do, because they're all too dependent on each other. Since nobody had an epiphany, they're all stuck there forever.
  • "Everybody Laughs" Ending: A uniquely dark and disturbing example since the people are in hell and their laughter could be them going insane.
  • Evil Is Petty: The pettiness of all three is readily apparent, and as the play goes on we see how deep their evil deeds go.
  • Freudian Trio: Garcin is Ego, the harshly critical Inès eventually becomes the Superego (while acting like Id at first), and the psychotic Estelle reveals herself to be Id.
  • The Gadfly: Inès appears to be this at first, and while she's the most pronounced, all three are soon revealed to be Gadflies to each other. That's their punishment—they're stuck in a room making each other miserable forever.
  • The Golden Rule: The point of the play, and of existentialist philosophy in general. You create the world you live in, and hellish behaviour will make your life hell quite well enough without any divine intervention required.
  • Hell Hotel: Arguably, this is the inversion (rather than an Earthly hotel being hellish, Hell is a rather normal Earthly hotel–on the surface anyway).
  • In Love with Love: Garcin is disgusted with Estelle because she tries to seduce him with flattery, so when Estelle calls Garcin a hero like he wishes, it doesn't actually mean anything.
  • Insistent Terminology: Garcin and Estelle tend to fall into this a fair deal to try and distance themselves from what's become of them. Garcin avoids mentioning Hell by name to the Valet, referring to it as "This residence" while Estelle insists they all refer to themselves as "absentees" as opposed to dead people.
  • Ironic Hell: A very stripped-down, bare-bones version. You got sent to hell because you're an unpleasant person. Your punishment is to be locked into a room with two other unpleasant people. Forever. And you're not even locked in—it's only your psychological flaws, the ones that got you sent to hell in the first place, that keep you there.
  • It's All About Me: All three are this, leading to the sins that caused them to become damned to begin with. They spend a good deal of time in hell fussing about how they're remembered on Earth, either claiming their friends are remembering them unfairly or expressing indignation when their friends don't think of them at all.
  • Jerkass: The three of them in life were awful people, which comes to be used as their mutual hell.
  • Love Triangle: Played with all over the place. Hell picks the roommates very well; every one of them is capable of respecting each other at least superficially, but when any two start getting along, the third person will try to break it up out of jealousy. All three are attention whores and cannot stand the other two being friendly. Estelle makes romantic overtures at both but really wants to get with Garcin, who ends up ignoring her in favor of Inès (because he thinks that Inès, as the Only Sane Man, will be able to validate him), while Inès ignores and degrades him because she's in love with Estelle. The three are perfectly suited to constantly torturing each other via social shenanigans, and yet incapable of dealing with the idea of leaving the other two.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Inès gaslighted her lover in life until she committed a Murder-Suicide with a gas leak. Inès tries repeatedly to make Estelle dependent on her over the course of the story, but Estelle is creeped out by her advances and rejects her every time.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Garcin: Resembles the French word for "boy". It comes from his desire to be seen as a hero or a man.
    • Estelle: Est-elle or "is she". Comes from the fact that she can't know if she's real or not without seeing herself in a mirror.
      • Estelle also means "star", as befits a narcissist.
    • Inés means "chaste", and she was a closeted lesbian in life.
      • Her last name Serrano is the name of a chili pepper of the extra hot variety.
  • Minimalist Cast: The only characters are Estelle, Garcin, Inès, and the Valet (who's a one-scene wonder).
  • Mundane Afterlife: The characters' afterlife is a mundane-looking hotel room with three couches, much to their amusement. The dialog does make it clear that Hell isn't like this for everyone, though.
    Garcin: (Gesturing a the decor) Are all the rooms like this one?
    The Valet: How could they be? We cater to all sorts.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: After taking a liking to her cousin's wife, Inès manipulated his murder so she'd have her to herself.
    • Estelle attempts to do this to Inès towards the end when she grabs a letter opener and stabs her with it. However, since Inès is already dead, it has no effect, not even causing her pain.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The door to the room opens toward the end of the play, but nobody can bring themselves to actually leave. While part of it is because they're too hung up on their insecurities being probed by the others, they're also terrified to leave the (almost nonexistent) comfort of their room and go into Hell. Notably what's outside their door is never revealed to audience. Some productions have it represented by bright lights, sheer darkness, or ominous noises, but in the original script, the only note is that it's much, much hotter with the door open.
  • Offing the Offspring: Estelle, after being impregnated by her lover and not wishing her husband to find out, throws the baby from a balcony overlooking an ocean cliff, with a large rock tied to it to boot.
  • Only Sane Man: Garcin believes himself to be this. He thinks that he's a provider and pacifist who has no reason to be here. Inès is the real deal, being the first one to recognize that they're in Hell, there for very good reasons, and are supposed to torture each other.
  • Ontological Mystery: The play begins with them in a hotel, which they determine to be hell and then puzzle out why they are there.
  • Pacifism Is Cowardice: Garcin presents himself as a Badass Pacifist, but is actually a Dirty Coward who was shot for desertion.
  • Psycho Lesbian: Inès. It's never outright stated that she's a lesbian, but it's pretty clear she is, and committed a terrible act because of it. She also becomes obsessed with Estelle, constantly making passes at her and becoming enraged when Estelle doesn't return her affections. Exaggerated when Estelle becomes physical with Garcin which the two of them do intentionally to torture her.
  • Remember the Dead: In one scene, Inès sees a man and a woman having sex on her bed, then her vision blacks out because she no longer has an alibi.
  • Sadist: Inès lives for hurting others and quite readily admits it.
  • Sealed Room in the Middle of Nowhere: The play's setting is a locked room that presumably isn't in any actual hotel, or building for that matter. As it turns out, it doesn't have to be sealed.
  • Self-Inflicted Hell: The context of the famous "Hell is other people" quote. The only reason Hell is anything like hellish is because all the characters are horrible people who can't help but make each other miserable via social interaction. Made even more poignant by the fact that the characters are given several opportunities to escape during the play, but are held back every time by their own flaws, fears and anxieties. Not only is hell other people, YOU are its security system.
  • Servile Snarker: The Valet takes immense pleasure in welcoming the new guests, letting them figure out the nature of their hell for themselves and answering questions only when prompted.
  • Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers!: This is part of the entire point. At the end of the story, it's implied that the main characters could leave at any time they wished to, but their own character flaws and lack of empathy with each other prevent them from doing so.
  • Trophy Wife: Estelle was this in life, the young, pretty wife of a much older (and wealthier) gentleman.
  • Villain Protagonist: All of the characters are horrible people that have done horrible things. That's why they're in Hell, but only Inès recognizes this fact at first.
  • Yandere: Estelle was displeased by one of her lovers, so she took a horrible revenge by throwing their child off a balcony in front of him.
  • Year Outside, Hour Inside: During the play, the characters have visions of life progressing without them on Earth, and it seems unlike usual Hells in which an eternity in Hell is actually a second in "real-time," what feels like a brief time in Hell is actually several months on the outside.

Alternative Title(s): Hell Is Other People