I finally saw The Death of Stalin (2017) with my bride and son last Saturday. Most films that I have high expectations for often leave me at least slightly disappointed. This film exceeded my expectations. It is a superb evocation of the power struggles that ensued in the wake of the death of Stalin in 1953. The blackest of black comedies, it is also hilarious, albeit with quite a bit of very rough language. The language however in this context works. The men of the Politburo were gangsters, murderers. We would no more expect them to use decent language than we would expect the demons to do so in Dante’s Inferno. However, if there are gradations in Hell, the worst was Stalin’s Himmler, Lavrentiy Beria. A Georgian like Stalin, and head of the NKVD for the latter part of Stalin’s rule, Beria had the blood of millions on his hands. However, his colleagues were little better than him. None of them had the courage not to go along with Stalin’s paranoia that executed millions and sent millions of others to living deaths, and often simply deaths, in the Gulag. All of them had to sign off on execution lists and imprisonment lists of people they knew to be completely innocent.
Beria is the villain of the film, as the film depicts, albeit in truncated fashion, his rise and fall post Stalin. The film’s comedic tone leaves it right at the very end when during his “trial” Beria is denounced for his habit of taking advantage of his position to rape women at will, to have women prostitute themselves to him in usually futile efforts to save themselves or their men and children and Beria’s involvement in pedophilia. Only then do we see moral outrage from his colleagues, because here, for the first and only time in the film, they are talking about crimes they did not engage in themselves.
Communism is back in vogue on the Left, and thus this film appears at an opportune time to remind us of the gruesome reality of Communism in practice.