The Hard-Boiled Eggby Eugéne Ionesco
(translated from the French by Richard Seaver)
Shot of a modern kitchen. In the middle of the kitchen, a young woman wearing a white apron, holding an egg in her hand. Then the fingers that are holding it, and the hand; then, the woman’s neatly arranged hair; then her forehead, her eyes, her head. Then a close-up of the woman’s head, smiling broadly so that we see her teeth, beside the egg, which is held in the hand, of which only the tips of the fingers and the red-polished nails are visible.
She: This is an egg.
Voice off (the young woman’s voice): We say that the egg is oval because it has the form of an egg. What is characteristic about it is that the egg is oval without having been ovalized and that its ovality is perfectly natural. We can say, without any great risk of being wrong, that except on rare occasions, so rare in fact that they are scarcely worth mentioning, the ovality of the egg is inherent in the egg.
The voice ceases. We see the following images appear on a blackboard, traced with an invisible piece of chalk:
Voice off: Some people pretend that the egg’s name…
We see the woman’s nose, her chin and her mouth in an ellipsoidal smile.
...comes to the egg from the architectural ornament in the form of an egg which serves to decorate a cornice of the Doric Capital and which is called: ovolo…
From the point where the “Voice off” is saying “architectural ornament” to “Doric” we see the shot of an ovolo surrounded by foliage.
Voice off: ...without any foliage around it…
Shot of another ovolo not surrounded by foliage.
Voice off: ...or surrounded by foliage.
She: To prepare a hard-boiled egg.
Then we see the sink and the faucet. Then, to the left, the kitchen stove. Slow pan of the camera, showing the refrigerator and the kitchen door. In one corner, a broom and a vacuum cleaner, a white sideboard, various doors of which are being opened by the hand with the polished nails. We see several piles of plates inside. On the door itself is a row of saucepans, arranged from small to large in ascending order starting on the left of the spectator. The door closes. The camera pans in silence, mysteriously. We see a drawer open slowly by itself. Inside, we can catch a glimpse of neat rows of knives, forks and spoons. Another drawer opens, and inside we can see some cups and saucers. Then the camera shows a white cupboard, inside which we can see three onions, a tomato, a dry loaf of bread and a surprised white mouse, which runs away. We see the tiles of the kitchen floor, a broom with a cloth wrapped around it, which is slowly scrubbing the tiles. Then we see the nine legs of the three kitchen stools set around the four legs of the kitchen table, which are of gleaming chrome. The camera moves up along these legs of stools and table, and we see the tops of the stools around the table, then the top of the table itself, all of which are made out of formica. Then, as though it were tossed on the table, the young woman’s hand. The camera parades slowly along her bare arm, reveals the suggestion of a breast, the neck, the back of the neck, then the woman’s face, starting with her chin then ascending to her lips, her nose, her eyes, her ears. Then we see a close-up of large eyes, blinking, then the woman’s whole face. With a broad smile, she says:
She: To prepare a hard-boiled egg, first go to your local dairy.
Shot of a dairy. The dairyman is wearing a white apron and has in front of him several wide-mouthed jars filled with eggs.
She: Do you have some eggs that are good and fresh?
Dairyman: How many would you like?
She: I’d like one egg. Good and fresh.
In her kitchen.
She: To make sure the egg is fresh ask your dairyman to candle it.
Shot of the dairy.
She: Would you please candle the egg for me to make sure it’s really good and fresh.
Dairyman: Why of course, ma’am.
We see the dairyman candling the egg. We see a close-up of the transparent egg. We see the eye of the dairyman who is examining the egg before the candling machine.
Dairyman: It’s good and fresh, ma’am.
She: Is it a hen’s egg?
Dairyman: It’s a hen’s egg.
In her kitchen. We see her full-length, then only her head. Then her lips break into a beautiful smile and she says:
She: Because you can also use the egg of a duck. This is generally bigger and slightly greenish in color. Like this:
We see her hand holding and showing a duck’s egg, then her other hand holding and showing a hen’s egg, then both her hands holding and showing a duck’s egg in one and a hen’s egg in the other. We hear the young woman’s voice:
She: You can see the difference.
Then we see her face, her lovely smile. We hear her saying:
She: My advice is to use the hen’s egg, it’s lighter.
Shot of the dairy. Here the young woman is dressed differently, with a hat, a gabardine raincoat, a basket on her arm. She puts the egg in the basket.
Dairyman: Be careful, ma’am, don’t break it.
Shot of the housewife leaving the dairy. A man rushes into the shop and, on the threshold, bumps into her.
She: Be careful, I have an egg!
A Woman: Be careful of her egg!
From the end of his shop:
Dairyman: She has to keep her egg intact.
She’s out on the sidewalk and getting ready to cross the street. Cars are passing. On the sidewalk, the housewife makes a sign with her hand. A policeman approaches.
She: I have an egg.
Policeman: Don’t break it.
In the middle of the street: we see the policeman blowing his whistle to stop the traffic. A long line of cars, in both directions, stops abruptly. A few cars bump into each other. Two or three drivers, one of whom is a woman, raise their voices in protest.
The Woman: What’s the matter?
A Driver (toward the car he bumped into): Why didn’t you watch where you’re going, you idiot!
The Policeman: Watch out, an egg!
The housewife crosses between the stopped cars.
The Woman (from the car): Why are we stopping?
A Driver: No doubt to let a woman go by with her egg.
After the lady has crossed the street, the cars start off suddenly, knocking the policeman down, and out of the car which hits him tumbles a whole basket of eggs which do not break.
A Passer-by (to another passer-by): All that for an egg.
We see the young woman entering her house. She takes the elevator. Another woman is in the elevator.
She: I just bought an egg.
She takes the egg from her basket and shows it to the other woman.
The Other Woman: It’s beautiful.
The latter woman takes an egg out of her basket and shows it to the first woman.
The Other Woman: I just bought one, too.
Comparing her egg to the other woman’s egg:
She: They’re so much alike!
The Other Woman: You might even say two twin eggs.
Again, the kitchen: the head and the smile of the young woman.
She: It’s preferable to cook the hard-boiled egg on the stove. Don’t put the egg directly on the stove.
Shot of a hand putting the egg on the stove. Then, shot of a hand pushing aside the hand that was moving toward the stove.
She (voice off): ...but first in a saucepan.
Close-up of a saucepan suspended in mid-air.
Voice off (continuing): You must put water into the saucepan, a sufficient amount so as to cover the egg. For example, for a cylindrical saucepan eight inches in diameter and six inches deep, all you need is a pint of water.
As we hear the woman’s voice delivering the text above, we see the following succession of shots: night; a few glimmers of light originating from the windows of small houses of a village. Headlights of a car in which there can be seen large snowflakes falling slowly. The moon, surrounded by scudding clouds. A dog lunges at a shadow, a car stops abruptly, silently. The dog was also silent. Shot of a comfortable living room, with arm chairs set in a semi-circle around a fireplace in which a wood fire is burning. Then again the night and the car with its headlights shining on the road. The car is driving silently and extremely fast. In the light of the headlights, a winding road, the mountain, the moon.
Again, in the kitchen. Shot, in the foreground of the young woman, her big eyes blinking, her beautiful smile.
She: You can obtain the water by turning the faucet which, in most cases, is placed above the sink.
Shot of a faucet placed above a sink. Close-up of the faucet. A hand—the young woman’s hand, with its polished fingernails—turns the faucet; a saucepan, held by the other hand, receives the running water. Full-length shot of the young woman, next to the sink, facing the camera, holding the saucepan in her hand.
She: It’s the saucepan containing the water into which you will submerge the egg that you will place on the stove.
We see her doing what she describes. Shot of the saucepan on the stove. She shows the egg.
She: Not right away…
She puts the egg down on a plate.
We light the stove with the help of a match taken from a little box…
We see her hands taking a match from a little box.
Which you rub against one of the two ends coated with red phosphorous.
Gigantic close-up of the fingers, the box of matches, the match rubbed against the phosphorous: the match is as big as a torch. We hear her voice:
She (voice off): You turn the knobs. You hold the match above the opening of the burners out of which the gas, after having passed through the pipes, surges in the form of little flames.
Very enlarged close-up of the pipes, the burner openings, the little flames, which grow even larger. A forest fire, incandescent polycanders in the sky above the forest. A river catches on fire. Fish on fire. A house on fire; an old woman in the midst of the flames, with her clothes on fire. A young man dashes forward to snatch her from the flames, can’t make it, silent efforts, the woman disappears, her arms outstretched in a welter of smoke, despair written on the young man’s face; his tie is on fire. A flock of sheep in flames, running through meadows in which the grass is burning. Again, the shot of the river. The sound of boiling water and, again, the saucepan is on the fire, with the water boiling in it. Gracious, serene smile of the young woman in the middle of the kitchen. Earlier, the camera will have shown the sink, the utensils hung on the wall, the floor, the stove.
She: In place of a match, you could just as well have used a cigarette lighter,
Shot of the hand and a cigarette lighter lighting the stove.
or a flint-operated lighter,
Shot of the hand and the flint-operated lighter lighting the stove.
or an electrically operated lighter.
Shot of the hand and the electrically operated lighter lighting the stove.
As soon as the water begins to boil you plunge the egg into it.
We see her doing just that. From a distance, from close up, from very close up, but always the same gestures. Then, again, we see her taking the egg with her fingers, with her thumb and forefinger. She delicately places the egg in the boiling water (close-up). Shot, seen from below, of the egg which is boiling.
She (voice off): Wait for a few minutes for the egg to cook.
For 70 to 90 seconds, we see the same shot, with no other accompanying sound but the gentle sound of the boiling water. After 70 seconds, the voice says:
She (voice off): Be patient!
Then the same shot again for ten seconds. Close-up of an egg-timer on the top of a cupboard. Grains of sand are flowing. Progressive deformation of the egg-timer which changes into the body of a woman with an hourglass shape: we see her head, her unpinned hair cascading down, her eyes, her face. Sand pours down out of her hair, off her shoulders, etc.; then, from her hair and shoulders the rain streams down.
Shot and sound of a quiet rain on a sleeping little town. Meadows and woods, in the rain. Rainpipe, along which we see and hear the water flowing. The camera will shoot the picture of the rain spout from the top of a wet tile roof and will descend to the sidewalk and the drainage ditch. Wet pavement. Vast desert of sand. The shadows of a caravan of camels passing beneath the light of the moon. These shots should not be short, but on the contrary slow and silent. A tall tree, alone, in the middle of a prairie. Then, a poplar tree, two poplar trees, at first close at hand, then receding imperceptibly into the fog. Then the fog into which the poplars have melted. Then, abruptly: the sound of an alarm clock. We see a big alarm clock on a plate. Cock crowing, hens beginning to lay eggs, as though at the cock’s bidding. Rapid sequence of shots: a telephone, a telephone ringing. Shot and sound of a siren. A big packing case: we see a Negro’s hands beating a rhythm with drumsticks. A few notes of jazz. A doorbell ringing. A man’s thumb pushing. We see the mailman. He says and shows:
Again, telephone, alarm clock, big packing case and jazz, telegram. All these have been very rapid shots, in contrast with the preceding ones. Again the kitchen with the furniture crowding in and the young woman smiling a movie-star smile and saying:
She: After ten minutes, you can remove the egg, with the help of a spoon so as not to burn your fingers.
A close-up of her hands carefully and quietly taking the egg out with a spoon. The young woman is right next to the sink.
She: Put the egg in cold running water for the same reason and in order to remove the shell more easily.
We see her doing this: her back is to the camera, neither too far away nor too close, but as she says this last sentence we see her full length, her head turned toward the camera. Shot of the water coming from the faucet and running down onto the egg which is in the spoon, the handle of which is held by the tips of the thumb and forefinger with the polished nails. Again we see her full length, taking the egg with one hand while with the other tossing the spoon over her shoulder. She takes a few steps toward the camera.
She: The shell is unedible, except for hens…
Shot of a hen eating an eggshell.
…which need them in order to make other shells into which they will put the ovoglobulin as well as the material necessary for the yellow of the egg.
We see the foot of a hen pouring some white matter from a bottle, then some red matter from another bottle, then the hen’s foot mixing its contents.
She: If you eat the shell, you may get appendicitis.
Shot of a fat man eating eggshells, then the shot of an operating table and surgeons operating.
She: Therefore, removing the shell is highly recommended. To do this, you tap the shell very lightly with a knife or a coffee spoon.
We see a close-up of the young woman’s two hands, one holding the egg, the other a coffee spoon, tapping the shell. We see a close-up of the egg alone, and the spoon cracking the egg. We see the crack.
She: Once you have obtained the slight crack…
As she is saying these words, we see her smiling face, then a shot of her from the waist up, with the cracked egg in one hand and the little spoon in the other.
She: ...you put down the blunt instrument…
We see her looking for a place to put down the little spoon, she hesitates between the sink and the table, then we see her hand putting the spoon on the table.
She: ...and then you remove the shell simply by using your fingers and being very careful.
We see her doing what she describes, first a fairly long shot, then a medium shot, then only her hands performing this job. Reappearance of the young woman’s face.
She: You throw the remains of the shell into the garbage pail.
She moves over to the sink, bends down to open the little door under the sink, we see the garbage pail appear, her hand throwing the remains of the shell into the garbage pail. We have heard her say:
She: Like this. If you want to have two or three eggs…
Shot of a plate, with two, then three eggs.
She (voice off): ...you quite naturally double or triple the amount. This does not affect the cooking time.
In the saucepan, seen from above, we see two eggs, then three eggs, in boiling water.
She (off): You may have noted that when you cook any other kind of food—vegetable stew, pease porridge, carrots, monkey, snake, iron, two-headed eagle…
We see the picture of a stew boiling in a saucepan; a shot of some pease porridge rising in the saucepan, transforming itself into lava, flowing down the side of a hill; carrots growing longer and getting out of the saucepan, accumulating on a plate and rising to the ceiling, staving it in with their tips, which then turn into the points of pointed helmets, an army of red pointed helmets, the head of a monkey emerging from the saucepan, after having lifted up the lid; the head of a snake also emerging from the saucepan, encircling the saucepan, wrapping itself around all of the little flames; we see an iron in the water, as though in an aquarium, becoming red and incandescent, the hand of a little girl removing the incandescent iron from the boiling water, hand of the same little girl and of an ironing board on which there is a lacy petticoat which the little girl’s hand is slowly ironing, while the petticoat slowly goes up in flames; a gigantic two-headed eagle beating its wings in an enormous transparent receptacle; the eagle is being boiled, one of its heads falls off.
She: ...the cooking time varies in accordance with the amount of, or the consistency of, the food on the fire.
The preceding shots coincide with her monologue describing them. Shot of the woman from the waist up, smiling.
She: Eggs are an exception to this rule.
Beautiful smile by the woman.
She: The number of eggs does not affect the cooking time. This characteristic is no discredit to the eggs. If, despite all precautions, the egg is rotten…
Shot of the woman, shot of the woman’s hand bringing the egg to her nose, the woman makes a wry face.
She: ...don’t eat it.
The egg disappears; shot of the woman’s face in the foreground, still making a wry face.
She: You can recognize a rotten egg by its sickening odor…
Shot of her face, she feels like throwing up, holds it back.
...which is due to the chemical decomposition causing the release of hydrogen sulphide…H2S.
As she says H2S, she makes an even more terrible face; shot of an egg giving off a dense smoke. Shot of the woman. Shot of a volcano erupting.
She: In this case, throw it away.
Shot of an egg flying over the stove, the table, the windowsill, on out the window, hitting and breaking on the sidewalk, at the feet of a passer-by. He picks up the remains of the egg in his hand, brings it to his nose and makes a wry face, then he makes the person with him smell the remains, the other person makes a wry face, then he does the same to another passer-by, who makes a wry face. Three or four other passers-by, both men and women, arrive and smell the fingers of the man: they all make wry faces. The platform and interior of a bus, in which the passengers are looking from side to side, make wry faces and put handkerchiefs to their noses. A perfume shop, in which we see a young salesgirl having a customer smell a sample of perfume. The lady makes a terrible grimace.
The Salesgirl: But, ma’am, this is the perfume of rotten eggs.
The garbage pail, half full, into which rains a great number of eggshells, so many in fact that they fill the garbage pail until it overflows. Shot of a street in a little country town, empty, but if possible with a single person, for example a schoolboy, with his school satchel on his back, running and going into a house. It is hailing. Large hailstones striking a window. The two hands of a pianist on a keyboard. Many hands applauding. Several white birds, in full flight, come crashing to the ground. The hand of a hunter picks up a big white bird, which is wounded, on the ground.
She: Then you put the peeled egg on a plate.
We see the hunter’s hand turning into the young woman’s hand, then we see the plate on which she is putting the egg.
She: You can cut the egg lengthwise into two pieces, using a knife. Put some salt on it and, if you like, a little butter. You can also cut it crosswise into thinner slices and put them into the salad.
Starting with the words “You can cut the egg” to “into the salad,” we see the shot of the woman doing what she describes, this shot multiplied by seven or eight or ten, then dozens of hands, seen in simultaneous shots, occupying the entire screen, salting the eggs, cutting them into slices, putting butter on them, cutting the eggs into thin slices, putting them into the salad. A very discreet music possible with these shots.
Shot of the face and bust of the young woman who, as she says the next sentence, looks almost furious and speaks aggressively.
She: You can also eat the egg without cutting it into slices.
She reverts to her smiling attitude.
She: In this case, your hand bears the egg to your mouth…
Close-up of a fat Negro woman, and of her hand bearing the egg to her mouth; close-up of the mouth alone, which opens, the teeth, the larynx, the enormous fingers in an exaggerated close-up holding the peeled egg, the teeth biting into the egg four times and swallowing it, then the lips, the chin and the glottis moving as the egg is being swallowed. The lips close, the remains of the egg can be seen around the lips. As we see these unhurried shots, the young woman is speaking, off.
She (voice off): ...without the intermediary of a fork, and you bite into it as you would an apple, after having sunk your incisors and canines into it in order to detach what is called a mouthful…
These words carefully coincide with the sequence of shots showing the egg being swallowed, with necessary pauses.
...then a second, a third. Generally, three to five mouthfuls should suffice to consume the egg in its entirety.
The egg is swallowed. Shot of the lips surrounded by the remains of the egg.
The young woman also eats her egg; she takes a mouthful and says:
She: The egg is a nourishing, wholesome food.
She has trouble pronouncing, since she’s talking with her mouth full. She swallows the egg, then hiccups very loudly. She blushes and seems terribly embarrassed.
She: I’m sorry. Pardon me!
Again, the hiccups. Embarrassed, with a knowing smile.
She: Oh, pardon me! Goodness!
She covers her mouth with her hand, then covers her whole face with her hand, and conceals it. Then, between her fingers, we see one eye, shot of iron bars through which we can see a blue eye—still seen through the bars—and a setting sun—still seen through the bars.
Again a close-up of her face. She repeats:
She: The egg is a nourishing and wholesome food.
Then she goes on. We clearly see that it is she speaking, but she speaks with the deep voice of a man.
She: Although the egg is a nourishing and wholesome food, in certain cases it is forbidden, or hardly recommended.
Shot of a white-frocked doctor beside an operating table, smiling. Close-up of his face.
Doctor (with the young woman’s voice): Eggs are forbidden for people who have liver trouble and those who have albumin problems.
The young woman, all dressed, wearing a hat, with a handbag on her arm. Around her, a living room, with three women seated: one is seated on a cushion, another on a settee before a pot of flowers, the third in an armchair with an ashtray at arm’s length. Actually, it’s the same young woman pictured in the successive poses.
In what follows, the men will have women’s voices and the women men’s voices. Each of the women is going to peel a hard-boiled egg and eat it. One will put the shell in an ashtray, another in the flower pot, another in her handbag, then all three will throw it on the rug. Meanwhile, the young woman who is standing up says, singing:
She: It is extremely rare for eggs which are cooked to cause food poisoning.
Musical accompaniment. Shot of the doctor, standing up surrounded by three assistants, all of whom are played by the same actor.
First Doctor: Eggs are forbidden for those suffering from enteritis.
He sings, rather than says that. Musical accompaniment.
Repeated in unison by the three women, singing: It is extremely rare for eggs which are cooked to cause food poisoning.
Repeated in unison by the doctors, singing: Eggs are forbidden for those suffering from enteritis.
Chorus of women: Extremely rare for eggs which are cooked.
Chorus of doctors: Forbidden in cases of biliary lithiasis.
First Doctor: Biliary lithiasis.
She: For the toxins are generally destroyed by the heat.
First Doctor (with the chorus of doctors repeating it in unison): Azotemia.
She (with all the women repeating in unison after): Destroyed by the heat.
In the living room, the women and the doctors together. They all resume their normal voices.
First Doctor: Eggs are recommended for normal diets.
Chorus of men and women (with musical accompaniment): Eggs are recommended for normal diets.
The men and women are in the operating room.
She: But they are forbidden in the case of enteritis, for eggs encourage intestinal putrefaction and cause constipation.
Everyone in chorus: Eggs cause constipation.
Now, men and women both, out on a beautiful country road, marching in step as a group and singing. Background of mountains or hills.
First Doctor: But an egg is fine for an ordinary diet.
(Repeated by the chorus.)
She: During the period of convalescence.
(Repeated by the chorus.)
First Doctor: In cases of dyspepsia.
(Repeated by the chorus.)
She: And of tuberculosis.
(Repeated by the chorus.)
First Doctor: And of diabetes.
(Repeated by the chorus.)
She: And for normal diets.
(Repeated by the chorus.)
First Doctor: The egg of a healthy hen is not necessarily free from germs.
(Repeated by the chorus.)
The chorus will go on singing, and as it does we shall see the rear end of a hen, then two rear ends of hens laying eggs.
In the same order, that is: First Doctor, chorus of doctors, She, chorus of women, then doctor-woman duet, then men and women together.
Chorus: Eggs are often spoiled. The egg can become infected before it is laid. It can contain various bacteria: Staphyllococus albus. Pasturella. Bacillus coli. Bacillus pyocyaneus. Bacillus subtilis. Proteus vulgaris. Bacillus fluorescens putridus. Bacillus prodigiosus.*
Alternating shots of the chorus singing and the rear ends of hens laying eggs.
The film ends with a setting sun, if possible in the form of an egg, accompanied by the chorus singing.
Although Genet didn’t do work for us, I got Beckett, Robbe-Grillet, Marguerite Duras, Ionesco, and Pinter. They all did it. The only ones who turned us down were Günter Grass and Genet. But it was just at the wrong period, it was a time when we thought that somebody would finance Beckett, Pinter, and Ionesco. But this was before PBS. The networks talked to us, but they wouldn’t go for it.
We asked Genet if he would write a film for television, and he said,“You can come talk to me if you want.” So Fred and I went to London to see if we could get him to write a script. We get there, and…it was extraordinary. He lectured us for a half an hour. “You want to make it for that video? That TV?” He gave this lecture like an orator in front of an audience of a million people, with these huge gestures, all about the nature of television, which he was totally against. He walked behind the television and said, “Where are the people? Like, what’s behind the TV? Where are the actors? There are no actors there!” And he was right, of course–I know I didn’t argue with him. I was afraid of him. He was a sort of a frightening person when he got angry, and he didn’t like this idea one bit. So, no, he wouldn’t do it.
I asked Beckett if he wanted to do a script. Nobody had ever asked him before. People wanted to get things from Beckett that he’d already done, but they weren’t willing to gamble. They didn’t trust him, he was too far out, they didn’t know what he might do next. I think the same was true of Ionesco, as well.
Eugéne Ionesco was born in Romania in 1909. He witnessed, first hand, the rise of fascism and communism, and this experience helped shape his worldview and would later be employed in dozens of plays, short stories, two books of essays, and a novel that closely examined the absurdity of the human condition. Ionesco fled to Paris in 1938 and made it his home for the rest of his life. He wrote his first play The Bald Soprano when he was 37 and achieved international acclaim a few years later when The Chairs was produced. The Hard-Boiled Egg, written in the early '60s for the Evergreen Theater, was his only film script. Excerpt from an interview with Barney Rosset.