A Comedy of Terrors

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by Armando Simón

I’m originally from Cuba, the Cuba that the Communists turned into, first, a paranoiac, oppressive nightmare and, then, turned into a pigsty. One of my degrees was in history and as a result of my family’s experience, I particularly focused on Marxist countries, constantly reading the survival stories, the history of the rulers and their crimes, as well as the extensive Western apologists’ writings, all of which should have been mandatory reading in Western countries and which would have nipped the present resurgence of totalitarianism in the bud (everyone has heard of Himmler and of Dachau and Auschwitz, but few people have heard of Yagoda, Beria, Kolyma, or Vorkuta).

I was steeped in the horrors of Communism, so when I heard that Iannucci had written a comedy on those horrors, and that the events in the movie were historically accurate, I was shocked, fascinated, curious, offended. And impatient to see it. Incidentally, a formal treatment of Stalin’s death can be found in Rubenstein’s The Last Days of Stalin.

The movie finally arrived in the United States, shown in only a few theaters, and I went to see it. Having a bucket of ice-cold water thrown at you outside in winter; it would be both funny and traumatic. The audience watching the movie in that theater felt that way. We saw scenes and heard dialogue that were hilarious—and horrible. We all wanted to laugh but couldn’t. Occasionally a laugh would escape from someone in the dark, only to be instantly stifled. We felt that to laugh was wrong.

The film is really a masterpiece of dark humor.

Later, I bought a DVD copy of the movie to add to my collection of DVDs.

My wife and I are friends with a Ukrainian and Russian couple and when I recently mentioned the movie The Death of Stalin, they said they had not seen it and so I loaned them my DVD. I thought that they might enjoy it.

And I must confess in hindsight that I was very stupid. And insensitive.

When my wife later asked her what they thought of the movie, this is what the Russian wife texted back: “Also, last weekend I watched The Death of Stalin. I got the cognitive dissonance, that’s how I would describe my feelings. They mostly followed the historical facts, but I cannot accept any sarcasm or dark humor about these tragic events that’s happened in my former country. (My grandfather spent his [sic] a big chunk of life at the concentration camp [the gulag] before the World War 2 and after that. He got Posttraumatic syndrome, his life was ruined, his two sons (including my dad) were sent to the child prison as children of enemy of nation. They were raised up at the orphanage then. So I couldn’t laughing [sic] (which was supposed to do), by watching this movie. I enjoyed the actor playing Chrushev, though.”

I saw the movie two years ago. I was so stupid that the obvious did not occur to me, to wit, that for us the events in the movie were historical, but to them, they were personal. And painful. Extremely painful.

And I insisted that they relive them.

I felt terrible reading her text.

And this explains to some degree why Russians and Ukrainians are reluctant to speak about those days. In the West, particularly America, we have the attitude that it is good to remember and speak about past trauma, that it is beneficial in that by speaking about it a weight is lifted from one’ soul. We also believe that by revisiting the trauma we learn to avoid a recurrence and we teach others to avoid a similar situation.

Incidentally, now that they see what is going on in this the United States, with the fraudulent election, the ubiquitous censorship, the indoctrination in schools, the constant Marxist and racist propaganda, the politicization of the military, and Americans’ total lack of backbone and refusal to fight back—physically fight back—they have contemplated leaving the USA.

 

Armando Simón is a trilingual native of Cuba with degrees in history and psychology, with feelings of déjà vu. He is the author of several books (Very Peculiar Stories, When Evolution Stops, The U) which can be found—for now—in Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. But not for long.

5 Responses

  1. The 2020 election wasn’t fraudulent, numerous reputable groups have debunked that lie very thoroughly. You’re not exactly in a strong position to bash other people’s failings and propaganda when you cupidly believe in such nonsense.

    1. Of course it wasn’t fraudulent. Joe Biden was the most popular presidential candidate, gathering more votes than Trump, or even Obama. And he remains the most popular president ever. Really.

  2. Well, I have to say that it was a brilliant film, one of the best I have seen in satirizing the Stalin Regime. Such a pity it didn’t get much publicity on its original airing.

    I’ve read many, many books on his life and there’s no way to review it in film without hurting some people’s feelings.

    Here’s the review of the movie I wrote back in 2018.
    5 March 2018

    Consider yourself very lucky ……. that you weren’t walking the halls of power in Uncle Joe’s day.

    One wrong look, one mistaken arched eyebrow, one accidental meeting with a lightly suspected enemy of The State and you were toast.

    Stalin was the figurehead of that particular Ship of State, where a murderous communist bureaucracy just grew out of the ashes of the murderous Tsarist bureaucracy.

    You can’t blame just Stalin himself for it all, it was a runaway train.

    This, though, is Russia’s fate; intrigue, suspicion, doublecross and murder are baked into the DNA of the nation (All nations have these problems, but the penalty for getting caught in Russia has a nasty, painful finality to it.)

    And so what would you expect upon the death of leader who ran the country with a rigid and flawed ideological rule book? Where death, torture or exile was the punishment for any form of disagreement? Refer to the paragraph above and add in a bit of chaos!

    Well this film shows pretty much what happened and to my mind it’s brilliantly portrayed.

    The members of the politbureau who stood with medals gleaming in all their resplendent power on the balcony at Red Square proved something in the aftermath.

    They showed that, with one or two exceptions, they were just Stalin’s lackeys. and hopelessly out of their depth when they actually had to make decisions for themselves.

    Steve Buscemi plays a wonderful part as Khrushchev who is portrayed as one of the stronger members of the schemers after the Boss dies. Simon Russell Beale is superb as Beria, the ultimate hatchet man for the system.

    Jason Isaacs as General Zhukov has the best part in the whole movie. A tough no-nonsense, do what’s got to be done type of individual.

    I thought that Molotov was unfairly cast as a bit of a bumbler when real history shows that he was a mulish, ruthless messenger who would not give up a blade of grass in negotiations. (Mainly because Stalin would have had him killed if he did)

    All the rest of the cast do a fabulous job and I love the way they all have cockney type accents, especially Soso in the opening scenes.

    Of course there’s two routes you can go with making a movie like this, one is to tell the story as the tragedy it was with all of the emotive Russian Music that’s available.

    Or you can satirize it as the absolute travesty that it was.

    If you take the second option, you can poke fun at the ineptitude and blind obedience. Poke fun at any crazy interpretation of the concept of communism that happened to be in favour on any particular day. Interpretations that to most of today’s enlightened minds are just ludicrous!

    I like Iannucci’s approach to telling the story, with just the right amount of humour injected to take the real edge off what happened and yet educate us as to the horrible and easily repeatable reality.

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