Spoiled Meat: Food for the Revolution

Sergei Einstein’s The Battleship Potemkin presents a dramatic interpretation of the mutiny aboard the Russian ship the Potemkin after the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. The film sets the stage by looking at the cramped sleeping quarters of the sailors and the officer’s poor treatment of them. To feed the men, the officers hang a large piece of meat on a hook for the sailors to pick apart. Vakulinchuk rejects putrid meat on behalf of the sailors. Doctor Smimov comes to take a closer look, and the film reveals maggots writhing in the meat. The doctor merely offers the solution to cleanse the meat in brine. After refusing to eat, the sailors continue demonstrating their disapproval of the ship food by refusing to eat the soup later provided by the ship.

Doctor Smimov looks at the maggot infested meat with his pince-nez.

The captain orders everyone on deck and tests the crew of its loyalty. About ten to twenty people admit to not eating the soup, and as a punishment the captain decides to kill them by firing squad. The squad refuses to shoot, which sparks a mutiny. The sailors defeat the captains, but Vakulinchuk dies in the process. The ship sails to Odessa, where the people mourn Vakulinchuk and provide aid for the sailors, including provisions. After the ship leaves, Tsarist soldiers massacre the people of Odessa. The film ends with the Potemkin meeting with a squadron, but the ships of the squadron refuse to engage in combat and the revolution continues on.

A baby careens down the Odessa steps next to other fleeing inhabitants as Tsarist soldiers shoot down everyone.

In the film, food plays a major symbolic role. The hanging meat becomes a symbol for the sailors; the way the meat swings when the audience first sees it parallels the sleeping men in the beginning. The officers of the ship put in little effort to preserve the meat to maintain it’s original quality. The severe neglect of the meat lead to maggots, that ate away at the meat itself. Like the meat, the sailors receive little to no special treatment to kept them healthy. Because of this, maggots grow and begin to devour the meat. This metaphor is perpetuated with montages of the fighting mixed with the maggot meat. The doctor originally declares the maggots harmless, assuming elimination of them will be simple. Likewise, the captain looks at the food refusal as an insignificant problem that can be easily solved by quickly killing those causing problems.

The spoiled nature of the meat contrasts the livestock brought on the ship from Odessa. The livestock provides a very positive link to the people of Odessa. The fresh meat ties them to a people who truly care about others and will put the needs of others before their own. As the audience cringes at the rancid nature of the captain’s meat, the audience sees the Odessians in a positive light as they offer fresh food to sustain the sailors. In this film, food creates an aversion to the enemy and fosters a connection between the common people pushing for revolution.


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