Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Death of Stalin

I recently watched a movie called The Death of Stalin, a British satirical black comedy about the power struggle among Soviet higher-ups after Stalin's death. Despite of its horribly dark setting and every leading character being a monster, the movie still follows the traditional comedic structure.

The protagonist of the movie is Nikita Khrushchev played by Steve Buscemi. He is portrayed as the most likable of the cast, funny and slightly less evil than most of his government colleagues. Following Aristotle's comedic structure, the movie shows Khrushchev rising from his position as the lowest-status and most underestimated member of Stalin's circle to a leader of USSR.

By adopting the form of a comedy, while simultaneously acknowledging the atrocities of the Soviet regime, the movie accomplishes an effect that a documentary or a serious character study couldn't. It strips the air of super-humanness from members of the Soviet elite, exposing them as mundane and laughable.  In doing so, it fundamentally undermines the glorification of people like Stalin as "cruel but just". After all, it is no coincidence that today's Russian government, which often appeals to the "glory" of the Soviet past, banned the movie from a theatrical release.

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