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Sartre and the Return of the Living Dead

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The dead will remain with us, Sartre remarks at the end of Les Mots, for as long as humanity roams the earth. The dead are never quite dead; they survive in what Sartre, in L'Etre et le néant, calls 'la vie morte' (dead life). In Huis clos, Sartre envisages an afterlife in which, although they can no longer act, the dead continue to agonize over the meaning of their lives and their now irrevocable actions. Sartre's script of Les Jeux sont faits, filmed by Jean Delannoy and shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 1947, goes a step further. It depicts two dead people given the chance to return to earth in the pursuit of love and, at the same time, the opportunity to rectify their earlier mistakes, to change the meaning of their lives by intervening more effectively in their worlds. Despite its supernatural story line, the stakes of Les Jeux sont faits are recognizably Sartrean. The film serves as an opportunity to probe the themes of freedom, responsibility, choice, the role of the individual agent in history, the self's opacity to itself, the conflict endemic in the human condition and the ways in which external circumstances make a mockery of our endeavours. It asks the question, if we were given a second chance, could we revisit the scenes of our failures and transform them into successes? Could we learn from our mistakes and lucidly remodel the world in the form of our desires? Or are we condemned only to fail again, to make the same mistakes twice over?

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3167/135715505780282551

Publication date: March 1, 2005

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