Sergei Eisenstein’s The Battleship Potemkinis one of the most influential propaganda films of all time. The movie is focused on the true story of the 1905 uprising of the crew of the Potemkin against Russia’s Tsarist regime. The movie is linked to Japanese history because the uprising occurred during the Russo-Japanese War and the Potemkin was one of the ships the Russians planned to use to attack the Japanese. The film also has a strong food connection because the uprising is triggered by a Tsarist commander on the battleship threatening to punish crew members who refuse to eat rotten, maggot infested meat. This propaganda film successfully uses historical fact and dramatization to point out flaws of a country’s own government.
Food plays an immediate role in this propaganda film as it is shown to be the initial reason for the uprising. It is smart for Eisenstein to use food because it is a common good that all people need to survive. By showing the inedible, maggot infested meat and the terrible soup that the crew refuses to eat, all viewers are able to sympathize with them because of the basic understanding of food as a necessity for life. By picking a subject that everyone can sympathize with, Eisenstein immediately gets the audience to recognize the Tsarist regime is wronging their own people.
Another key moment in the film is when a crew member is washing dishes and the plate he is washing reads, “Give us our daily bread.” The use of an inanimate object communicating with a person to give him ideas of rebellion is a component of revolutionism. By reading this plate, the crew member realizes that the Tsarist regime is not doing their duty as leaders of citizens such as himself and his crew mates.
When the crew members decide to rebel and not eat the dismal food they were offered, the captain of the Potemkin orders for his men to shoot them down. Vakulinchuk decides to intervene and asks those men, “Who are you shooting at?” This is a dramatic and important scene because the soldiers drop their rifles and disobey the captains order to fire upon the rebels. Their decision to listen to an ordinary crew member over the captain’s order is a strong piece of anti Tsarist propaganda because it shows that the people who work directly under the Tsarist regime believe what the regime is doing is wrong.
Lastly, Eisenstein uses dramatization and distorts the facts to nail home his anti Tsarist stance. He uses the Odessa Steps to show the brutality of the soldiers serving the Tsarist regime. The soldiers walk over dead bodies on the steps without hesitation as if the Tsarist regime does not view their own citizens as people. Also, the people who are killed in this scene emphasize the wrongness of what the Tsarist regime stands for. The Tsarist soldiers kill a mother, a school girl, and a young boy.
Throughout the film, Eisenstein presents the Tsarist regime as a group of people and leaders who treat their own as if they are not even human. While treating other as if they are worthless and expendable, Eisenstein is able to make the dehumanize the Tsarist regime and make them appear as evil beasts.