Death of Stalin: Reality, the Comic Book and the Film

The story of the death of Stalin would probably fall into the realm of those stories to incredible to believe, save from that of Grigori Rasputin or that of the Romanovs in Ekataninburg. However, It did happen and a great deal of what has been told did happen. Stalin was and is a complex figure from history, The political master of the USSR who killed his friends, families and enemies. Stalin was both defender, liberator and oppressor of his people. Stalin was the Georgian who was loved and feared. The boy who was beaten up by his drunkard father; who the well loved son of his mother who wanted him to become a priest; and the Communist and Lenin man who became the Red has become the subject of several works.

The literature and media of Stalin is voluminous. If you were to cover the English language literature and media a few that stands out include but not limited to the following:

The Murder of Kirov (several books and articles)
The Assassination of Leon Trotsky (several books and articles)
The Murder of Nikolai Vavilov by Peter Pringle
The Inner Circle directed by Andrei Konchalovsky
The Children of the Arabat written by Anatoly Rybakov
Stalin: Inside The Terror, a BBC Docudrama
The Death of Stalin directed by Armanso Iannucci, a dark satire and the graphic novel written by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin
Animal Farm written by George Orwell

The famous of these is Animal Farm, a political fable about a revolution of farm animals. It has been published in several languages and many view it is thinly veiled commentary on Stalin and the USSR. It has also been adopted into an animated film supposedly funded by the US Central Intelligence Agency. A thin book recommended if not required reading in school is still fresh, entertains and warns its reader with among other things the phrase, “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others”.

Then there is the film about Stalin s projectionist in The Inner Circle. Stalin enjoyed watching cowboy films and the Inner Circle takes a look at the personality cult and Stalin s men in the last days of his life. Of course, there is the novel the Children of the Arabat, a story of the people from the district of Arabat under Stalin s USSR. A story within the book sheds some light on the personality of Stalin like light from broken shards of looking glass. A justification for the terror unleashed that will most likely be unpalatable but a reason none the less.

Another Stalin story I encountered and left a lasting impression was Stalin’s persecution of Russian geneticist Nikolai Vavilov. He was responsible for starting the seed bank that is now named after him. Vavilov was responsible for collecting seeds from all over the world and preserving them so that humanity could rebuild its crop when disaster strikes. The root of Vavilov s persecution was his belief that the gene bore the heriditary characteristics needed for a plant to adapt to an environment. This ran counter to the belief in the Soviet Union that inherited traits were not important. Stalin preferred the theory that if you wanted a seed to survive in a harsh environment you just needed to expose it. This theory was proposed by Trofim Lysenko and was criticized by Vavilov. And for this he was jailed and eventually died of starvation. This was then only the start the persecution of genetics study in the USSR which only ended decades after the end of Stalinism. It also led to the coining of the term Lysenkoism or misuse of science for political purposes. As a STS scholar and teacher this particular story impressed upon me the important role politics play in the development of science.

And now we come to the Death of Stalin. The story told was that the Russian leader suffered a stroke and because of what he done and become he was only discovered the morning after the stroke lying in his own pool of urine and with no doctors to assist him; For he had driven away, jailed and had killed not only his enemies but his family and friends; For he had initiated a campaign of terror and oversaw the creation of his own personality cult that all were in awe and terror in him. His latest purge deprived him of the doctors he badly needed at that moment.

The penultimate episode of Stalin s life provided rich fodder for the literature and media: The graphic novel and later the film that bears the same title. The French graphic novel looks at the Stalin and his death predominantly from the NVKD head Laventry Beria; who was a fellow Georgian and NVKD officer who took care of Stalin s mother. Stalin brought Beria to Moscow to execute and replace NVKD head Yagoda Yezoh. The graphic novel takes us to the rise and fall of Beria post-Stalin. The backdrop to this story includes the crimes of Beria, the intrigue and powerplay in the Inner Circle; the sins of Stalin against his family and the cult of personality that led to the death of thousands at the funeral of Stalin. This was a dark story.

On the other hand the film that was inspired was a different dark animal. It is wickedly and darkly funny that never loses its edge. The cast is an esamble of comedians, character actors, amd Shakesperean actors that give life to these deadly, tragic and somewhat funny people. It makes you laugh but ultimately in the end you realize that this actually happened. It is said life is stranger than fiction. The film Death of Stalin reminds us that life is also darker, weirder and funnier than fiction.

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