‘The Death of Stalin’: Murder and Violence Is Funny

By Olivia Norwood, Edited by Anthony Peyton

Russia in the 40’s and 50’s was a place of government corruption and utter tragedy. Most films about this Communist country consist of spies and executions including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Bridge of Spies. But what if satire was added to something that is known to be tragic? That is exactly what Armando Iannucci’s film The Death of Stalin does so perfectly. It paints Russia and it’s most notorious leader as comical without glossing over the historical violence.

Surrounding the death of Joseph Stalin, the disorganized members of the Central Committee fight for the position to replace their beloved leader. Among them are an opposing Nikita Khruschev (Steve Buscemi), a mousy Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), and the barbarous Lavrenti Beria (Simon Russell Beale). Once their leader passes, Khruschev strives to prove Beria’s guilt and crimes against humanity while Malenkov remains painfully neutral.

To understand why this film achieves the dark comedy aspect that it does, you have to look at the direction and cinematography that enhances the performances of its incredible actors. The men and women in the film also use an abundant amount of profanity to add more humor because what’s a comedy without “f*ck”.

There are many scenes of quick and dirty murder that flood the story. Police and soldiers shoot innocent people in broad daylight without remorse. But the execution and interrogation scenes makes the audience the most uncomfortable with their own judgement of what’s funny. You can see victims being pushed down stairs and distinctly hear soldiers shooting them all while Beria casually walks and talks through the halls of the secret jail. Its swift and happens without a flinch from its actors but with an uproar of awkward laughter from it’s audience.

Other scenes include the organized chaos that ensues when the Committee members find Stalin nearly dead, on the floor, and covered in his own urine while the clumsy middle aged men struggle to bring the heavy leader to his bed. With all of the doctors in the country either executed or jailed, they manage to pluck the former ones off of the street fearing for the safety of their lives.

Why is all of this funny? I might have an idea. Maybe the casualness of it all makes the chaos and violence seem more normal. We laugh when we see that the characters aren’t phased by the gruesome acts that are happening around them. But, it’s laughter caused by our own confusion of why it is funny.

Explaining why this film is amusing is a huge struggle but that is what comedy does best. It makes people question their own sick sense of humor. The Death of Stalin uses this to make audiences uneasy with their laughter and turn Russia’s history into a satire that puts the ‘dark’ in dark comedy.

My Rating: 87%

Acting: 3/4

Cinematography: 3.5/4

Story: 4/4

Enjoyability: 3.5/4