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PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES: social justice, revolution

CHARACTERS: Vakulinchuk (head mutineer), Golikov (ship’s captain)

OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR SERGEI EISENSTEIN: October (1927), Alexander Nevsky (1938) Ivan the Terrible (1944)

SYNOPSIS: “Odessa - 1905. Enraged with the deplorable conditions on board the armored cruiser Potemkin, the ship's loyal crew contemplates the unthinkable - mutiny. Seizing control of the Potemkin and raising the red flag of revolution, the sailors' revolt becomes the rallying point for a Russian populace ground under the boot heels of the Czar's Cossacks. When ruthless White Russian cavalry arrives to crush the rebellion on the sandstone Odessa Steps, the most famous and most quoted film sequence in cinema history is born.” – Promotional synopsis, Kino International. The film is in five parts: (1) "Men and Maggots", in which the sailors protest at having to eat rotten meat; (2) "Drama at the Harbor", in which the sailors mutiny and their leader, Vakulynchuk, is killed; (3) "A Dead Man Calls for Justice" in which Vakulinchuk's body is mourned over by the people of Odessa; (4) "The Odessa Staircase", in which Tsarist soldiers massacre the Odessans; and (5) "The Rendez-Vous with a Squadron": , in which the squadron ends up joining the sailors' side. – Wikipedia.

1. The film opens with this quote: “Revolution is war. Of all the wars known in history it is the only lawful, rightful, just, and great war. . . In Russia this war has been declared and begun – Lenin, 1905.” Why would revolution be “the only lawful, rightful, just, and great war”?

2. In the opening scene, an officer on the Potemkin (still under Russian control), stumbles into men sleeping in hammocks and in frustration swats one. The caption reads: “It’s easy to vent one’s rage on a recruit” and the swatted man says to his bunkmates, “there’s a limit to what a man can take.” This is obviously more than about a guy getting swatted. What’s the larger political significance?

3. When the ship’s physician inspects the meat, he says "Those aren't worms... they're only maggots. Just wash them off with brine; the meat's perfectly fine." Among the various injustices that Eisenstein could have focused on to provoke feelings of moral outrage in viewers, what was it about the food issue that made it so effective?

4. The film has a cynical view of religion. When the tarp is thrown over the sailors and they’re about to be shot, there is a close up of a priest tapping his cross, then a close up of a soldier holding his sword. Once the mutiny breaks out on the ship, the priest says to a rebelling sailor “Remember the Lord”; the sailor pushes the priest and says “Out of my way”! How might religion have been complicit in the injustices that the sailors were rebelling against?

5. When the people of Odessa mourn the death of Vakulynchuk, a smug middle class man yells “Kill the Jews”, after which the crowd beats him. What’s the significance of the anti-Semitic remark and the crowd’s reaction?

6. At the beginning of the staircase scene, town folk of all social classes cheer and wave at the Potemkin, indicating their support of the mutiny. Describe the appearance of the different social classes. Is it believable that the upper class would gladly participate in a communist revolution?

7. One of the pioneering features of the film is its use of quick edits (montage sequences), which is especially evident in the staircase scene. How does this add to the dramatic effect of the scene?

8. The most dramatic part of the staircase sequence is the concluding scene when the baby carriage rolls down the stairs. What makes this especially effective?

9. Compare and contrast these various tributes of the Odessa staircase scene on youtube:

10. In the concluding shot of the film, the Potemkin sails head on towards the viewer. What is the message behind this shot?


Battleship Potemkin is both philosophically and historically fascinating. The movies deals with a wide range of issues the Russians dealt with leading up to the Communist Revolution. The movie starts out on the Battleship Potemkin with the crew of the boat being oppressed by the Tsarist officers. One of the crew made the comment there is only so much a man could take which seems to be the overall theme of the movie as well has the motivating force behind the crew’s coup. The utter disregard for the well being of the working class in Imperial Russia is shown in a very real way on the Battleship. Men are treated no different than the rotten maggot infested meat they are told to eat. The men also find no solace in the established religion for they are told to accept their lot in life and God will repay them in the next. No real comfort, no real change in their plight for justice. They rally behind their leader Vakulynchuk who becomes a martyr for the cause of social justice and the people’s revolution, which ignites in Odessa the sea-port city. The people are truly united without racial or ethnical divisions this is seen when the crowed beat down a middle class man for an anti-Semitic remark. Justice is truly blind when people are united for its attainment. However, the imperial aristocracy crushed this uprising with no distinction of persons; men, women, and children. This only fueled the revolution even more, for justice. At the end of the movie we see the Battleship heads over the view indicating that revolution is inevitable and will roll over anything which stands in its way. As Lenin said at the opening Revolution is war. Of all the wars known in history it is the only lawful, rightful, just, and great war. — A.V.

Battleship Potemkin was pretty good, for what it is. I have never watched a silent film previously before taking this class. Naturally, it took me awhile to get acclimated to no dialogue. We live in a culture today that promotes sound and effects, so it was a real change for me. However, this is a gem when it comes to being full of propaganda. After watching this film, you really feel for what the sailors on the ship are going through and what cruelties they are subjected to. Philosophically there is not much content in my opinion, except for the propaganda aspect of the film. Again I feel ethics is a key aspect of this film. Take for example, the officers, they are only doing what they feel is right, so they could be doing what is morally right in their opinion. This could be a form relativism that shapes and guides their actions. Also, it shows that we should be humanitarians towards our fellow human beings. The maggots and the meat was just disgusting and should not have been allowed; however, the officers were acting in ways they thought were morally acceptable. Overall, this was an educational film that illustrates how to use propaganda in a effective way. The effective way is to sway public opinion and to feel empathy for the subjects of the film. Out of all the movies I have reviewed, this is my least favorite ; I am a bit biased by the big “Hollywood” productions, but that is what I have grown up with , but this does not keep me from realizing the importance of this film and its influence on filmmaking. — J.M.

Battleship Potemkin fed up with the condition they live in the crew of the ship began to revolt and refused to be subjected to eat bad meat. This movie shocks the audience by dramatizing a large montage of mutiny from the dissatisfied shipmates. When the maggots were crawling on the meat it disturbed me to think that the crew actually had to eat perished foods like that often. The crew was also subjected to arbitrary physical and mental abuse. The most dramatic part of the movie is when the townsfolk of Odessa start getting killed by a firing squad. The scene where the baby rolls down the stairs last for a long time and the mother’s face is extremely emotional. At the end of the film the liberated ship comes right for the camera full frame and it sends the message out that freedom is coming and oppression is ending. — D.M.

Battleship Potemkin: Battleship Potemkin is one of those films which one must see to be a movie buff. Set in 1905 during the beginnings of what would later become the Soviet revolution, it chronicles the mutiny on board an Imperial ship due to ghastly conditions. Battleship Potemkin may have set precedents that are still followed today, but its power lies in its ability to incite rousing sentiments in the viewer. I’m typically not one for silent films or propaganda for that matter, but Battleship Potemkin managed to strike to the very heart of injustice and social inequity. The famous Odessa staircase scene is stirring even to the most jaded movie-goer … and the jaded movie-goer will likely have seen this scene a great many times already as it has been referenced so many times it is unlikely to see the original before the parody. Despite its triumphs, there is no denying that Battleship Potemkin is dated. It simply wasn’t created for modern audiences. To truly get the full experience, you need to be an early 20th century Russian. When held to modern standards, it is overly simplistic and rife with painfully over the top acting. Still, it is a must see for movie buffs and anyone studying the Soviet revolution. — J.B.

Battleship Potemkin is a silent film about the time of the war with Russia. Many sailors on the Battleship Potemkin are outraged when they come to find out that maggots are in the food that they are being served. The sailors start to form a riot in the hopes of getting control so they can be treated better. The ship’s captain starts to have his men start shooting the soldier until someone starts to reason with him and help him understand who they are about to fight. He reminds them that they are on the same side. As the men put their guns down, the sailors start a rebellion on the ship. The man that tried to help them gets killed by another officer so the sailors decide to take his body to a port city. As they are at port, there are many people gathered on the steps when a strew of soldiers arrive and start firing into the crowd. It starts to create chaos because there are citizens being shot as well. The battleship starts to respond back by firing as well. After realizing that they cannot stay and fight, they return to the ship and start to head out. Ships had been set out to destroy the Battleship Potemkin, but as they ready their cannon they also put up a signal to join them instead of fight against them. The other ship decides to join them instead and both ships rejoice with the realization that instead of being attacked they are welcomed. — D.H.

I felt mixed about the battleship Potemkin. The acting is certainly over exaggerated but the same can be said of most silent films. The cinematography and editing are good for the time in which it was produced. Editing a film to heighten emotional responses was a new concept at the time. While much could be said of the editing of this movie that is not what I wish to focus on. Despite the positive aspects of this film I could not escape the fact that Battleship Potemkin is essentially a propaganda movie. The captain is wholly evil. More than just a symbol of authority he is a symbol of evil. He orders his men to eat the maggot infested meat and then orders them executed when they refuse. Valunchik on the other hand is the working class hero who bravely stands up to authority though it costs him his life. Released only 8 years after the Bolshevik revolution, the Battleship Potemkin draws parallels between the 1905 Revolution and the Bolshevik revolution. It was difficult for me to really enjoy the movie because I couldn’t stop thinking of it as a propaganda film. While I can certainly sympathize with the sailors on many issues, it seems that the movie presented a black and white (no pun intended) view of the events. In the movie the good guys are completely noble, heroic and altruistic while the bad guys have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. This characterization falls exactly in line with Marxist ideology. Those responsible for all of the pain endured by the workers are beyond redemption. There are no complex characters such as Ethan or Scar from the Searchers. This characterization makes for overly simplistic, if not bad, storytelling though it makes for good propaganda. If someone is making a propaganda film they cannot run the risk of having a hero anything other than completely noble and brave. Nor can they have a villain with good qualities. Such filmmaking would force the viewer to realize that the world is rarely as black and white as the Battleship Potemkin portrays it. In this respect, the Battleship Potemkin did what all successful propaganda films must do. — N.T.

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