In Seven Years in Tibet, Harrer was invited by his friend Peter and his wife Pema.

Pema asks Harrer about his women:

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Pema: What about women? Have you met anyone you like?

Harrer: Since I failed miserably with an Austrian wife... an exotic failure with a Tibetan wife seems misguided. But to answer your question, no, I haven't. You?

Here Harrer is questioning Peter by saying "You?", which is indirectly meaning of "What About You?".

Why does Harrer still ask Peter about finding women even though he is sitting in front of Peter's wife?


1 Answer 1


That scene opens with Heinrich smiling and saying to Pema, "Hello married woman." So he clearly intended to have a pleasant visit with Peter and Pema initially. While they were talking over tea you see Heinrich look at Pema's hand, and the camera focuses on Pema's ring. If you recall earlier in the movie Heinrich tricked Peter into trading a prized watch for food. Shortly afterward Peter finds out Heinrich was hiding three watches from him. This leads to a fight which is resolved when Heinrich gives Peter all three watches and Heinrich's wedding ring.

I don't know if it is the same ring or not, but I believe seeing the ring triggered Heinrich by reminding him of his domestic failures and frustrations. This leads to the quip you asked about. This quip would be especially biting if Pema's ring was Heinrich's old wedding ring. Essentially Heinrich would be saying "Yes I tricked you into trading your watch, but you married a woman I wanted with my wedding ring." Regardless I think seeing the ring brought Heinrich's resentment of Peter's happiness to the surface, which Pema gently chides him for. Heinrich's resentment in my opinion wasn't really due to losing Pema, but a reaction against Peter for attaining something Heinrich couldn't, namely a happy domestic life. This is something we know Heinrich valued through his letters to his son.

In keeping with the theme of the watch incident, I think it is significant that the next time you see Heinrich and Peter interacting is at the Christmas party at Heinrich's house. At the party Heinrich gives everyone a gift, and Peter's gift is especially meaningful. By giving Peter back his watch Heinrich is saying sorry for his past behavior, and I believe letting go of his past resentments, including Peter giving Pema Heinrich's ring if that was the case.

  • That answer is much appreciated. But seeing that the asker might not be a native speaker, you might want to introduce a little paragraph (maybe before the last one) that makes the circle back from this resentment to the actual dialogue. You explained that very well in your comment and a few words on this might be a good idea.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Mar 25, 2017 at 23:55
  • @NapoleonWilson I think this answer is a better and more accurate answer than my comment. The comment was based on a general recollection of Heinrich and this answer is based on the scene in question. The discussion about Heinrich's wedding ring when he gave it to Peter with the watches was a Chekhov's gun that went off during the scene in question. Yes Heinrich was an egotistical jerk who always wanted to win but I feel Heinrich's frustration/jealousy was driving this particular interaction more than his ego like I initially assumed.
    – Erik
    Mar 26, 2017 at 2:00
  • But the question nevertheless is about what that dialogue was even about and why he asked him if he already knew the answer. I'm talking about the much more direct explanation about the dialogue that is a little missing here. Your original comment still very much applies to the answer, it's just that in the much more detailed and elaborate explanation the very simple answer that actually provided the introduction to this whole conflict and resentment somehow got lost.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Mar 26, 2017 at 2:04
  • Specifically this part: "Harrah probably thought they were asking a question they already new the answer to in order to spite Harrah. Of course that wasn't what they were trying to do, but Harrah can't see that because everything is a competition and he can't stand losing."
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Mar 26, 2017 at 2:05

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