Sergei Eisenstein’s classic Russian silent film, The Battleship Potemkin is rightfully considered one of the finest films ever made. It chronicles the start of the 1918 Russian revolution, when the crew of the Tsar’s battleship, Potemkin, mutinied while at anchor in the port of Odessa. In what is unquestionably one of the most powerful scenes ever put on film, the citizens of Odessa gather in support of the mutineers on a huge flight of stone stairs leading down to the sea. The Tsar’s soldiers appear and begin firing into the crowd, slaughtering hundreds.
The images, once seen, the most famous of which is a baby carriage, the baby’s mother slain, bounding down the steps amid the carnage, are burned into the viewer’s mind.
I referenced the incident in my book The Role Players, when I have Jonathan and Dick’s ex, Chris, go see the film, and Jonathan, amazed, is assured that the massacre really happened.
And today I found out it hadn’t. Eisenstein made it up for his film. To discover that something one has believed all one’s life is not true is…to me at least…devastating (which may be too strong a word, but the most fitting I can come up with).
We’ve all experienced this feeling at one time or another. We all believe things which are not true. As children, fairy tales are real and we sincerely believe they are true…partly because we’re too young to know otherwise, but largely because our capacity for wonder helps protect us from reality. Fairy tales are true because we have yet to fully accept the concept of lies. We look to adults for guidance and to learn, and we believe what we are told is the truth. We grow out of belief in fairy tales…well, most of us do…slowly in the natural process of learning. Fairy tales always, always end happily, and good always triumphs over evil (and please don’t give me examples of when they don’t). That we have to learn, often by hard experience, that things do not always end happily and good does not always win over evil, hardens us.
I’ve mentioned before how I finally was forced to realize that there was no Santa Claus. I may have been one of the last kids on the block to have that particular illusion shattered, but I am still infinitely grateful to my mom for telling me in such a way that at least left the door open to the belief in the goodness of men.
But our beliefs are part of the foundation of our being, and to learn that something that we have believed in for years are not true (that all Presidents of the United States are fair, honest men comes to mind) can create cracks in that foundation. Most are unaware of them or just accept them. Unfortunately, I am well aware that, for myself, it is through these cracks that bitterness and disillusion seep in.
I suppose one answer to the formation of too many cracks is to question more; to not take everything we are told as gospel (and yes, there’s a double meaning there). I always think of one of my favorite sayings, which has several variations but is totally indisputable: “If a billion people believe something that is not true, that does not make it true.”
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