Sergei Eisenstein directed the silent film The Battleship Potemkin in 1925, when Russia had already toppled its Tsarist regime and created the communist Soviet Union. Therefore, the film is rife with communist propaganda and encourages a working class revolution over the bourgeoisie or ruling class. Since a proletariat revolution requires the working class to band together, Eisenstein uses food throughout the film to emphasize the solidarity of the proletariat.
One of the first times in the film that the men band together is during a scene with food. The men on the ship, already disgruntled because of the maggoty meat they are served, refuse to eat their allotted soup and bread in a collective show of defiance. The silent film medium actually works to Eisenstein’s advantage because instead of just having the actors explain the plan, he has to show the men’s act of defiance. Eisenstein is able to illustrate that this rebellion is a group effort by displaying the numerous isolated pots of soup on swings, with each portion corresponding to an absent worker. Also, the scene is noticeably empty and devoid of any movement other than the swaying pots. The film repeatedly cuts back and forth between the swinging group of pots and close-ups of the soup and bread. Both the barren setting and the camera movements draw attention to the worker’s absence, and highlights how the food is just sitting there with no one to eat it. Therefore, the large quantity of uneaten soup reflects the solidarity of the group of workers in their rebellion.
Later in this scene, Eisenstein uses an intertitle to highlight the worker’s act of unity. The workers’ mealtime stunt draws an officer’s attention, and he senses an act of rebellion due to the sheer amount of men absent. Consequently, he informs another officer “the men refused to eat the soup.” Since not all the dialogue in a silent film can be shown, the fact that Eisenstein chooses to show these words indicates their significance to the film. Therefore, the laborer’s unified act of revolt through food foreshadows their eventual revolution.
After the workers on the Potemkin take over the ship, word spreads to the people in Odessa, a nearby city. Odessa’s working class has been motivated to revolt against upper class oppression and wholeheartedly supports Potemkin’s crew. They show their support when the ship docks at Odessa and people of all ages come to cheer on the sailors. Furthermore, even though they’re poor, many of Odessa’s working class pass meat and live chickens to the crew. The film cuts between the diverse crowd cheering the Potemkin on and the numerous boats of people passing food to the ship. In this way, the film is able to link the working class of Odessa with the Potemkin crew to create a united working class group. Similarly, the shots help convey the immense volume of people who come to support the crew, which helps solidify the message of proletariat unity. Also, the rhythmic movements as the people work together to pass along food allow Eisenstein to emphasize the solidarity between the proletariat. The meat passed from boat to boat creates a sense of harmony between the masses, as they work together towards a common goal.
This scene can be compared to an earlier one in the film where the ship’s officers provide the men with rotten meat obviously unfit for consumption. In contrast to the ship’s officers, the working class of Odessa provides the crew with meat so fresh that it’s actually still alive. In this way, Eisenstein uses food to show how the working class needs to take care of itself as opposed to trusting the upper class to provide for them. Although the officers in the ship are charged with overseeing the sailors, they cannot even be bothered to give them edible food. In contrast, the people of Odessa give them food out of kindness, not out of obligation.
Overall, food is used throughout the film to highlight the solidarity of the working class in contrast to the disdain shown by the upper class. Not only do soup and bread create the first signs of an organized revolt on the ship, the meat given by the people of Odessa shows their support for the crew’s rebellion. Since food is such a vital part of life, Eisenstein is able to use it to unite the working class towards the eventual proletariat revolution.