The Death of Stalin


The movie “The Death of Stalin” is a darky satirical dramatization of the death in 1953 of the well-known dictator of the Soviet Union.  The story describes the true to life struggle of Stalin’s henchmen to come to terms with the new power vacuum in the Socialist Worker’s Paradise.


Abject subservience and utter servility on a colossal scale slowly morph into ruthless attempts to form ruling collations.   But old habits of the overly ambitious to appear agreeable, which had been the sole means of survival, die hard.  The paranoia is so thick and lavishly applied that one never knows whether to laugh or cry.


Indeed, the fear of taking any initiative is so ingrained that when Stalin collapses, he is unceremoniously left on the floor overnight without medical attention.  Eventually the Soviet Central Committee gets the word but is predictably unable to agree on any course of action.


A central theme is thus the utter incongruity of Soviet justice for which one might be summarily executed because a relative once took piano lessons from a performer who years later falls out of favor.  Indeed, anyone of note to include medical Doctors with even a moderate practice and attendant public esteem might be considered threatening and eliminated for no other reason.   Relentlessly piling it on, any immediate witnesses to Stalin’s last days are nonchalantly shot by state security to ensure control of the public narrative.


In contrast, Stalin’s son and daughter have been so sheltered from the obvious realities as to be in a surrealistic limbo state.  When Stalin’s son, who had undeservedly been put in charge, orders the national hockey team to fly in bad weather and the plane crashes and kills everyone, he tries to recruit anyone who can skate to cover the mistake.


Everyone else however is so well aware of the manifest dangers as to appear humorously blasé to mass slaughter.  Since the condemned are never given the slightest hint of any reason for their fate, the undercurrent of fear is a well worn coat of ubiquitous nihilism.


Unfortunately, the production so abounds with one-liners and absurdities, that pivotal plot elements are all too easy to miss.   In particular, the Machiavellian intrigues of both Beria, head of the secret police, and Khrushchev, head of the Communist party in Moscow, lack any highlighting.   Clever back-stabbing stratagems are presented as thoughtlessly inconsequential to the audience as perhaps the plotter intended them to be to his rivals.


Basically this is a fun movie about mass murder and socialism run rampant.  Although they remain in the background we might recall all the familiar slogans.  “Everyone’s property is no one’s property.”  “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.”  “All immediate witnesses to crimes of the privileged must be eliminated for the good of the public.”  So if you can get past the wacky incongruity of a film resembling “Dr. Strangelove”, this is a production I can recommend.