Sophie Scholl: The Final Days - A Study Guide
by Brendan O'Regan
One of my favourite resources for teaching about morality, conscience, the state, capital punishment and related issues is the film Sophie Scholl - The Final Days (an Academy Award Nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, 2006).
I've used it with third years and seniors and it works well at all these levels. With seniors I've shown the full film to good effect and with juniors I've concentrated on some key scenes, especially the final interrogation, which is the main focus of this article. The fact that the film is in German with subtitles doesn't seem to matter, in fact I think the subtitles get the students to focus and concentrate even more.
The film tells the true story of Sophie Scholl, her brother and friends who are in the White Rose movement in Germany during the Second World War (Senior History students will probably be familiar with this group). This was a student movement that campaigned against the Nazi regime, in a peaceful way, for example by distributing leaflets. As far as I can ascertain the film is historically accurate - for example transcripts from the original interrogations are used - and as far as can be seen from the photo montage at the end the actors look quite like the characters they are playing.
The film works well on an intellectual level, especially evident in the interrogation scenes, where Sophie is more than a match for her interrogator Mohr, who is in himself quite an interesting character, not at all a stock villain. He may have a grudging admiration for Sophie even as he tries to convince her of the error of her ways, and doesn't want to see her executed. But the film also scores on an emotional level as well, so don't be surprised if there are a few tears or lumps in the throat in the classroom, from students and teachers. Apart from the absorbing storyline, the success of the film is also due to the outstanding performance of Julia Jentsch as Sophie, and to the three dimensional characterisatons in the minor roles.
The film is readily available on DVD and is well worth the investment, but at the time of writing it is also available on YouTube in segmented form.On the DVD the final interrogation clip (about 10 minutes long) is Chapter 11 entitled "Conscience and Consequence" (see clip on left).
I will suggest some approaches here for that final interrogation scene, but it's worth noting that immediately before this we see Sophie praying in her prison cell, which helps us to understand her motivation. In fact this scene, along with a small number of other prayer scenes, including her words with the prison chaplain near the end, would make for a very useful resource on the topic of prayer. Sometimes when I use the interrogation scene the students are so interested that when I have finished with that scene I let the film run on to the trial scene that follows soon after, which is gripping in its own way and further illustrates many issues relating to the state and the individual conscience. At one stage Sophie makes a spirited and moving defence of God, conscience and empathy. The judge might seem an OTT Nazi, but I've seen historical footage of this guy in action and he was just as bad in real life!
At this stage the students will probably want to see right to the end of the film - there follows an emotional visit from her parents, but to say more would give away too much. Suggested questions for the "Conscience and Consequence" scene (these could be asked informally after viewing or preferably turned into a worksheet so that students can reflect on the issues before discussing in class).
is there that the interrogator Mohr does not want Sophie executed? Why
do you think that Mohr reacts so strongly when Sophie mentions God?
Useful quotes from the scene (these could also be made into a worksheet, especially to prompt discussion at senior level)
Mohr: "You may have used false slogans but you used peaceful means"
came to pick up the children at the mental hospital. The other children
asked where they were going. "They're going to heaven," said the nurses.
So the children got on the truck singing. You think I wasn't raised right,
because I felt pity for them?"
can we rely on if not the law?"
Sophie: "The law changes, conscience doesn't".
Mohr: "What would happen if everyone separately decided what is right or wrong?"
Sophie: "We've only tried to convince people with words"
do you risk so much for false ideas?"
Mohr: "The Jews are emigrating" (!)
Sophie: "Every life is precious".
Sophie: "You have the wrong world view, not me"
Sophie: "I still believe I acted in the best interests of my people. I don't regret it. And I will accept the consequences".
( Syllabus links for Irish schools: Junior Cert: Section F - The Moral Challenge Leaving Cert: Section D - Moral Decision Making )