A Fight for Food – Hank Lin

The Battleship Potemkin is one of the Russian silent films made by Sergei Eisensteinin the 1920’s when several revolutions and uprisings occurred. This film is often seen as one of the most influential propaganda film in Russia that promotes revolutions for equality. It depicts a group of sailors on the battleship Potemkin who complain about the food quality on board. The uprising breaks out when the officers and the captain ignore the sailors’ complaints and do nothing to improve the food quality. The news of rebellion spreads through the town and civilians join the rebels. The movie leaves the audience in sympathy when the government soldiers start shooting down civilians near the end of the movie. The film, though silent and in black-and-white, clearly shows the important role that food plays in the development of the film and in the sailors’ lives. The creator of The Battleship Potemkin, Sergei Eisenstein, successfully made the foods catalysts that induce the rebellion by vividly capturing the appearances of the foods.

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The Battleship Potemkin is divided into many sections. In the first section, calls “Men and Maggots”, the creator of pointed out the significance of foods in the plot development of the film. In the beginning of the section, the sailors find and complain that the meat that they are being served with is rotten and infested with maggots. The complaints soon reach the officers and captain’s ears. However, they ignore their complaints by demanding them to go back to work. This obsolete reaction angers the sailors; yet, they obey the orders and get back to work. It is clearly seen that the food quality and equality are extremely important to the majority of the sailors as they state “even the Japs are fed better than us!” On one hand, the meat that is portrayed in the film acts as a turning point and holds a foreshadowing effect for the movie. It can be seen as a symbol of unity being slowly disbanded, in which the maggots can be depicted as the rebellious sailors and the body of the meat being the battleship and the officers. The audience is hinted that some nasty things are going to happen when relating the gruesome scenes of maggots and chopping of the rotten meat. The meat incident does not cause the uprising to break out; rather, it only leaves the sailors agitated.

The rotten meat

Another food that is presented in the film, the soup, acts as the climax of the film. After the meat incident, the sailors refuse to eat the soup in order to protest for the unchanged food quality on the ship. The revolution soon breaks out after the protest. In this sequence, the sailors are all united in order to attain their righteous treatment. The soup that is presented is, like the meat, not pleasant to view. Even though the audience is unable to see its color due to the technology at that time, the gloomy, boiling soup seems to take the form of the witches’ poisonous dews in most children’s stories. This revolting scene can be another evidence of the bad treatment of the sailors. The appearance of the soup, similar to the rotten meat, is significant in that it also foreshadows the messy revolution later on in the movie. More importantly, the boiling and the bubbling process of the soup can also be seen as the growing anger inside the sailors as they “have enough of rotten meat” and the fact that they are continuously ignored by the officers. The film maker has made it really clear for the audience on who to sympathize with; in this case, the unified revolutionary sailors.

The Soup

The foods, namely the meat and the soup, in the film The Battleship Potemkin are the main reasons that trigger the revolution on board. Unquestionably, Sergei Eisenstein has done an extraordinary job in including the visual parts of the foods and transforming them into significant factors to the development of the film. For instance, the appearances of the meat and the soup foreshadow the upcoming events in the story. It can be implied that Sergei Eisenstein wants the audience to realize that everything, even things as small as the bad food quality, is worth fighting for. This is probably the reason why The Battleship Potemkin is seen as the most influential propaganda film at that time.

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