Les jeux sont faits is an existential book written by Jean-Paul Sartre in 1943 and published in 1947. The title translates literally as "The Plays are Made", an idiomatic French expression used mainly in casino gambling meaning the bets have been placed. An English translation (no longer in print) was made from the French by Louise Varése in 1952, and published as The Chips Are Down.
The story is set in Paris, in a setting vaguely suggestive of either occupied France or Vichy France during World War II. The plot concerns two characters, Pierre Dumaine and Eve Charlier. They are predestined to be soulmates, but this destiny is prevented by their premature violent deaths, and they do not meet until passing into the afterlife.
Eve and Pierre have never met each other in their respective lives. At the beginning of the book, Eve is very sick, and unknown to her, it is her husband André who is poisoning her, in order to marry her sister Lucette and keep the dowry. Pierre on the other hand is planning a revolution, but is killed by his friend Lucien. Both Pierre and Eve do not realize that they have been dead for a while. Pierre and Eve realize different truths about their own lives as they walk invisibly as ghosts amongst the living, with the power to interact only with other deceased souls. Pierre and Eve have difficulty adjusting to this powerless condition. They meet each other in line to register at a bureaucratic clearing house for the recently deceased. They meet each other in the dead, and slowly find out that there has been a mistake. They are surprised to be informed that there has been a mistake in the paperwork and in fact they were predestined to be soulmates, according to article 140.
Pierre and Eve are revived and permitted 24 hours to fall completely in love with each other, or their second chance at life will be revoked. However, they are each distracted by unfinished business from their previous lives. Eve was poisoned by her husband, and needs to convince her sister that he is not a good man. Pierre needs to stop a revolution he had planned to overthrow the Regent. In death, Pierre has discovered the Regent knows of the plans to revolt, and Pierre realizes that if the revolt occurs it will result in the massacre of his friends and the end of the resistance.
Unable to explain the unique circumstances in which they acquired their knowledge, they both have difficulty convincing their friends of what they know is the right thing to do. Neither is able to completely dissociate themselves from the things that were once important to them, and they realize that by not concentrating on their love they might be sacrificing their second chance at life.
Pierre Dumaine – Pierre is a leader of an underground resistance movement against the local Regent in the unnamed city in which the story is set. His death was a result of a betrayal by Lucien, another member of the rebellion, and a police informant.
Eve Charlier – Eve is the wife of André Charlier, the Chief of the Militia (Milice - named after the Gestapo-like paramilitary force in Vichy France during the Second World War). Like Pierre, her death is a result of betrayal. Her husband André slowly killed her by poisoning her drinks as she lay stricken in bed, in order to inherit her wealth and marry her beautiful younger sister for her dowry.
André Charlier – Eve's husband, who kills her and is warming up to Lucette
Lucette – Eve's sister, who is very naive
Pierre and Eve are permitted to return to the living for the express purpose of falling in love. But in the afterlife they have seen terrible things that they overlooked while living and attempt to prevent these things from occurring, rather than loving one another. After 24 hours, the pair die once more, having accomplished nothing, including a consummation of their love. This reinforces Sartre's view that one is condemned to follow one's choices, no matter how good or bad. He also shows that it is impossible to know if a choice is right, even if it is done with the best possible motivations. To Sartre, there is no absolute truth or morality. Instead, he believes destiny will always win over the power of life.
Sartre shows that though freedom is perhaps an illusion, it is also a necessity. Pierre and Eve realize the absurdity of death as they wander the streets and witness the problems of friends and loved ones after their second demise. They are powerless to help and thus powerless to relieve themselves of their own suffering in reaction to what they see; they are forced to view life, yet they cannot participate in it themselves since they are mere ghosts. All that keeps us from leading useless, fleeting lives is our power and freedom to interact with the surrounding world according to our own choices.
References in popular culture
In Episode 6 "Enough About Eve" of the Third Season of the Gossip Girl (TV Series), Gossip Girl narrates: "Sorry Ladies, les jeux sont faits. Thanks for playing... Each other" after the characters of Blair and Vanessa plot against one another.
In the 1986 film Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Principal Rooney makes the statement "Les jeux sont faits", which he then mistranslates as "the game is up", to someone he believes to be a truant Ferris Bueller.
The film Beetlejuice is said to contain elements loosely based on this play and its portrayal of a bureaucratic nightmare in the afterlife.
In The International Stud (part of Torch Song Trilogy) by Harvey Fierstein, Arnold says "I ain't sayin' I never fell for a pretty face, but when "les jeux sont faits".... give me a toad with a pot of gold and I'll give ya three square meals a day."