This is a one-act play (1944) by the existentialist French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. The original French title is Huis Clos, the French equivalent of in camera, referring to a private discussion behind closed doors. The English translations have also been performed under the titles In Camera, No Way Out and Dead End, and No Exit. Three characters are locked into a room together for eternity as a form of punishment for their sins in life. The play is taking place in hell. It is the source of Sartre's most famous quotation, 'lâ enfer, €'est les autres ('Hell is other people').
Existentialism a term coined by Sartre has its roots in the philosophical works of other philosophers during the 19th Century like Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. Dostoevsky and Kafka raised existentialist issues in their novels such as absurdity of life and the dilemma of personal choice and responsibility for man's freedom of choice. Existentialists believe that man creates his own existence once he discovers the absurdity of life through making choices which form his being. The actual acts of man are the essence of his being and his existence. Once man discovers that he can be or not to be, he can live or die, he is free to make choices, he starts to experience his existential anxiety or 'angst'. He may deny his freedom and live inauthentic life making excuses by determinism of his genes or his past. He may believe that his existence is based on fixed values given by society or by reason and when he discovers that some of those values are shattered or malfunctioning, he may feel despair. Man created his own values and his decisions and is responsible for his decisions and actions.
As man's existence is his own subjective experiences, choices and acts, the existence of the Other make his existence limited. The Gaze of the Other limits his freedom and affects his choices and thus the subjectivity of the self and the other makes the objectivity of the self. The Other's look make the individual an object, something, which contribute to his being.
In the play (No Exit or In Camera) there are four actors (one of whom, the Valet, appears for only a very limited time). The play begins with a Valet leading a man named Joseph Garcin into a room that the audience soon realizes is in hell (hell is described as a series of rooms and passages). The room has no windows, no mirrors, and only one door. Eventually Garcin is joined by Ines Serrano, and then another woman, Estelle Rigault. After their entry, the Valet leaves and the door is closed and locked. All expect to be tortured, but no torturer arrives. Instead, they are left to probe each other's sins, desires, and unpleasant memories, gradually realizing that this is their punishment: they are each other's torturers.
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 primarily to Garcin's desire for validation from Ines that he is not a coward. The characters face the gaze of the others, with no mirrors in the room.
Before he died, Joseph Garcin was a journalist and man of letters by profession. We know that he ran a pacifist newspaper and was shot for his principles in a time of war. He was married, but had no respect for his wife and cheated on her frequently and flagrantly. Being-for-others bad faith is what dominates Garcin's character. It's also what keeps him in hell. At the end of the play, when he refuses to walk out of the door, it's because he's afraid to be alone, to deal with his freedom and the responsibility and anguish that come with it. He'd rather stay in hell, where he can deceive himself into thinking he's an object under the gaze of his companions.
Inez is a sadist. She believes that each person should be out for themselves, and refuses to let either of her companions off the hook. She forces them to take responsibility for their previous actions: dragging confessions from them or threatening them with agony of the mind. Garcin's claims to choose courage as a value system, but doesn't act accordingly. Inez calls him coward.
Estelle Rigault is a young society woman from Paris. Orphaned as a teen, she married a rich older man to support her and her brother, had an affair with a boy closer to her own age, and drowned the resulting child. Estelle just needs a man to desire her, so she can become an object and be free of the responsibility of being a subject. Throughout the play her repeated pleas for Garcin to look at her, hold her, touch her, or want her have to do with this particular brand of bad faith.
This emphasis on bad faith establishes Sartre's underlying argument of the play: Hell is other people. Using only three people and an empty room, Sartre evokes scenes of utter torture and despair. In effect, Inez canât stand Garcin looking at her because she thinks that he is automatically judging her. Garcin's mere existence thus reduces Inez's feelings of autonomy. Moreover, both Garcin and Estelle refuse to let go of their pasts, each looking at their friends and loved ones back on earth. They attempt to justify their existence by only thinking about their past experiences: as Garcin explains, his 'fate' is the evaluation of his past actions by other people. Inez however, sees her past as meaningless and inaccessible, choosing to exist in the present instead. She insists to the others that 'nothing' is left of them on earth and that all you own is here. Rather than justify her existence in terms of the person she used to be, Inez asserts her freedom to choose her essence in the present, even though she is in hell. She is the only character in the play intent on confronting both her responsibility and her suffering an essential step is asserting her existence. As Sartre explained, Life begins on the other side of despair.