The Death of Stalin (2017), is a comedy film about the succession crisis that ensued in the Soviet Union after Stalin’s fatal seizure in 1953. The plot follows a power struggle between Nikita Kruschev, then 1st Secretary of the Moscow Committee, and Lavrenti Beria, head of the NKVD security forces (the secret police). The film uses comedy to send a message about human nature, but more specifically, governments: Authoritative regimes are built on fear and are still incredibly incompetent. The film finds comedy in the fear present in life in the Soviet Union, such as a scene where a man fears that a room may have been bugged and he was recorded mildly insulting Stalin’s taste in music, and begins apologizing to random appliances in the room in case they were bugged.
The film loosely falls under the traditional definition of a comedy, as a (debatably) noble protagonist, Kruschev, achieves an increase in fortune by the end of the film. However, the path to this fortune is anything but noble. Kruschev lifts a travel ban placed by Beria to allow the people into Stalin’s funeral, leading to NKVD forces firing on an unexpected crowd of arriving mourners, massacring them. Civilians are executed and sent to gulags, reforms are withheld for political power, and the protagonist achieves his increase in fortune by staging a coup, holding a kangaroo court, and executing Beria. This gains Kruschev an increase in fortune as he becomes the Head of the Soviet Union. However, further subverting the definition of traditional comedy, the film ends with text reading that Kruschev will eventually be ousted by Leonid Brezhnev. This solidifies the message of the film about authoritarianism, as not even the hero of the story is secure in this regime.