The Death of Stalin Parent Guide
A dark, profanity-laden comedy about the transfer of power after Stalin's death, this movie is well scripted but very violent.
Parent Movie Review
In 1953, Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) exerts absolute control over the Soviet Union. With the aid of the head of the secret police (NKVD) and Interior Ministry Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), Stalin creates lists of dissidents, traitors, and those who pose a threat to his power. But when Stalin drops dead of a stroke, the power struggle to fill the vacuum threatens everyone in the Soviet leadership. Although legally Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor) officially succeeds Stalin, his weak leadership means that he can be challenged. Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) and Beria seem to be the front runners, but they need to amass the support of other members of government- Yvacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin), General Georgy Zhukov (Jason Isaacs), and even Stalin’s daughter Svetlana (Andrea Riseborough) could shift the balance of power.
You might think that’s a rough premise for a comedy, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But for a black comedy? It’s just about right. But comedy this dark isn’t for everyone, and if you can’t find the humor in an execution (or a few dozen), then this isn’t going to be your cup of tea.
What really carries comedy in any context, but especially in a black comedy, are sharp writing and clever acting. The Death of Stalin has both in spades. From Steve Buscemi’s quickly scheming Nikita Kruschev to Jeffrey Tambor’s insecure and clumsy performance as Georgy Malenkov, this cast could turn anything into gold. The highlight for me is Jason Isaacs’ coarse and bellicose turn as General Zhukov. Isaacs seems to be having entirely too much fun with the part, which makes it eminently watchable.
But good acting doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and the script more than supports the excellent work of the cast. Quick, sharp, and biting, the dialogue has a flair that keeps the movie fast-paced, even when there isn’t much to see but talking heads. Clunky writing would have made this a death march, but it sprints along on its profanity-soaked repartee.
Speaking of which, the profanity is one of the biggest problems with the film. 72 uses of extreme profanity is a lot, no matter how you slice it. And, although comedically presented, the torture, execution, and sexual abuse of civilians by the NKVD is not pleasant family viewing.
I wouldn’t recommend this as an educational tool, because frankly, it’s much funnier if you already know some of the story and the players involved. Even if it weren’t, the film plays the usual movie tricks with history, blurring timelines and characters for the purposes of a more structured narrative. And even if it didn’t, this isn’t exactly family-friendly edu-tainment. But if you’ve got a bent for history, and a proclivity for the darker side of humor, and considerable tolerance for cussing, then you will absolutely die for The Death of Stalin.Directed by Armando Iannucci. Starring Steve Buscemi, Jason Isaacs, and Jeffrey Tambor. Running time: 107 minutes. Theatrical release March 9, 2018. Updated April 1, 2020
The Death of Stalin
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Death of Stalin rated R? The Death of Stalin is rated R by the MPAA for language throughout, violence and some sexual references.
Violence: Individuals are frequently executed, with visible blood, both onscreen and off. There are depictions of torture. An individual is shown having a stroke. An autopsy is shown. Individuals are beaten. A dead body is covered in gasoline and set alight.
Sexual Content: There are references to the rape of children. There is a scene that implies a man will rape a woman he imprisoned. A man kisses another man on the lips in a non-sexual manner. There are crude sexual jokes made throughout.
Profanity: There are 72 uses of the sexual expletive, 19 uses of scatological curses, and a number of terms of deity and mild profanities. Crude terms for male and female anatomy are also frequently used.
Alcohol / Drug Use: People are shown smoking throughout the film. An individual is frequently shown drunk and is portrayed as an alcoholic.
Page last updated April 1, 2020
The Death of Stalin Parents' Guide
Are you a fan of dark comedy? What makes it work? Where do you draw the line between insensitive and funny? Do you think it’s possible to find humor in terrible historical events? Do you think it’s helpful or disrespectful?
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If you are interested in stories that try to find comedy in dark historical events, you might like Jojo Rabbit. Directed by Taika Waititi, the story is set in Nazi Germany and stars a ten year old boy whose imaginary friend is none other than Adolf Hitler.