When a friend asked if I had seen the play or the movie based on Sartre’s “No Exit”, my curiosity was piqued. I searched online and found a version I could read. In this brief one-act play, Sartre illuminates the human condition and the consequences of behavior. Actions often taken lightly, reverberate and leave disaster in their wake. The three main characters are dead. In life, they were each, in their own way, responsible for a tragic ending. They are now in Hell, where they are forced to explore their sins. They are forced to face them and take responsibility for their actions. There is a purpose and design to the combination of the souls together, in the room with no exit.
Ines is a lesbian. She is the most realistic about their plight and is the intuitive foil used to move the play along, used to expose each of the other character’s faults. Estelle is consumed with her own vanity, her own image. Garcin is a coward who does not want to face his own weakness or his true self image. All three are in denial about the errors of their ways and their deaths. Each has been involved in an affair of the heart, which ended in dreadful circumstances because of their transgressions. Each has been consumed, in the conduct of their lives, by the selfish satisfaction of their needs, without regard for the pain those actions caused in there aftermath.
When at the beginning, Garcin says to the valet: “So one has to live with one’s eyes open all the time?”, my first thought was, so that is Hell, having to face oneself. Later, near the very end, he says: “Hell Is Other People” and I realized the simplicity of the message the play imparts. Hell is being placed in a situation where you have to face yourself through the eyes of other people, others who are relentless in their effort to expose and judge you, the very thing you avoided during your lifetime, the truth.
The three people chosen to be together in the room with no exit, have been condemned to the constant exploration of their character flaws through their intimate conversations. They lay bare the imperfections in each other and, therefore, can no longer hide from their own. Their torture was not physical but emotional and mental. They must constantly face their shortcomings with no hope for redemption. In the same way they tortured others in their lives, with dreadful consequences, they now are tortured by the actions of their “roommates” who are consumed with themselves and their own cruel natures, bent on exposing each other and forcing each to witness the humiliation of their shameful ways and horrible consequences of their shallowness, perhaps over and over through eternity. There is no escape from that kind of Hell.