Battleship Potemkin: Injustice, Lower Social Status, and Religious Rhetoric

Battleship Potemkin is a Russian silent propaganda film directed by Sergei Eisenstein that dramatized the conflicts between the proletariats and their commanding officers.  Through the symbolisms of food, the proletariats take over the battleship and fights the injustice faced by the poor sailors.  Eisenstein is able to sway his audience more to the extreme left with food by pointing out the injustice the poor sailors experienced, the higher social status among the Japanese, and the religious rhetoric.

The doctor examines the maggot infested meat, but disregard the contamination and deems the meat good to eat.

In the silent propaganda movie, food is used as the catalyst that starts the revolutionary reaction.  The men of the ship were given low-quality, spoiled, and maggot-ridden meat to eat.  The men complain about the food and ask the superiors if they can have better quality food.  The doctor looks at the meat, acknowledges the maggots, but disregards the potentially health threatening consequences the maggots might have.  The doctor tells the sailors that the meat is safe and good to eat, which really escalated the tension between the common sailor and his commanding officers.  Interestingly, a Russian sailor aboard the Russian ship noticed and expressively exclaimed that the food the Russian prisoners of war aboard Japanese ships were fed considerably better.  Also, while washing the dishes, the sailors come across a plate with the words, “Give us this day our daily bread”, which absolutely outrages the sailor even more.

The higher ranking officials’ plates are inscribed with “Give us this day our daily bread”

The movie’s main goal is to sway the audience to rise against the rich, and support the poor, goals of the communist faction.  Eisenstein used the maggot infested meat in order to illustrate the high social gap between the rich and the poor.  While the rich and powerful are able to eat fresh and healthy foods, the poor have to eat whatever is left over even if it is rotten or spoiled.  The maggots and the doctor’s disregard represent the rich’s disdain towards the poor, never really considering the welfare of the proletariats.

The sailor’s remark about the Russian POWs in Japan demonstrates the social standing of the poor among the rich.  Basically, the sailor, knowingly or unknowingly, says that the Japanese hold their Russian POWs in higher regards than the Russian officers do to their own sailors.  Eisenstein tries to outrage the audience, by suggesting that even the enemies of the Russians, hold the poor people in higher status than the Russians themselves.

Lastly, the quote on the dish alludes to religion.  The movie not only uses the images of injustice and the ideas of higher social status in enemy territories, but it also included religious rhetoric.  The quote alludes to the symbolism in the Christian faith.   Bread symbolizes life as it is the nourishment that sustains life.  The biggest irony and injustice is that the officers eat off these morally sound plates, agree with the quote, but do not share the same benefits to their sailors.  Those, in the audience who are heavily religious, would be appalled and consequently outraged at this scenario, and would therefore sympathize with the proletariats.

Although food may seem to play a small role in the movie, food is actually abundantly used as a propaganda tool.  Eisenstein uses food to illustrate the images of injustice, higher social status in enemy territories, and religious disapproval.  Using food in these three critical ways, Eisenstein would successful anger his audience and sway them to the more socialist side.


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