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Film / Stalin

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"Our history required Stalin."
Vyacheslav Molotov

Stalin is an HBO Biopic about Josef Stalin, beginning with the initial success of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. It depicts how Stalin took power following the death of Vladimir Lenin and consolidated power through the brutal collectivization policy and the Great Purges. The movie also focuses on Stalin's personal life, most notably his relationship with his wife Nadezdha, who ultimately kills herself because of how brutal and twisted Stalin becomes.

The movie stars Robert Duvall (as Stalin) and Julia Ormond (as Nadezdha).

This film has examples of:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • Stalin treats his son Yakhov (from his first marriage) terribly, not even telling his second wife Nadezdha about him. When Yakhov tries to shoot himself, Stalin mocks him for missing. When Yakhov is captured by German forces, Stalin responds, "I have no son Yakhov."
    • Stalin also recalls his own childhood in which his dad would frequently "beat the shit out of him."
    • Even his children with Nadezhda aren't safe: he had Vasily, a frequent drunk when he grew up, imprisoned because he hoped a prison cell would help him sober up, and he warned his daughter Svetlana that he has people watching her moves.
  • Adapted Out: Many of Stalin’s leading subordinates are not included in the movie, most notably Georgi Malenkov, who succeeds Stalin as General Secretary. Also absent are Anastos Mikoyan and Andrei Zhdanov, who were especially high-ranking throughout much fo Stalin's rule. World War II also receives scant attention in the movie, and neither General Georgi Zhukov, who led Soviet forces during the war, or Allied leaders Winston Churchill or Franklin D. Roosevelt make an appearance.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Stalin’s previous underground alias was Koba, after a famous Georgian revolutionary. He changes it to Stalin, but says that for old comrades he will always be known as Koba.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Stalin’s underlings (except Beria) are truly saddened over his death, even as they realize this will make their lives easier. Stalin's maid is especially distraught by his death.
  • Bad Boss: Stalin executes many of his subordinates and enjoys humiliating those who survive.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Defense Commisar Kliment Voroshilov boldly calls out Stalin for purging the military and trusting Adolf Hitler after Stalin tries to blame Voroshilov for the German invasion. Voroshilov immediately recognizes that he has likely signed his own death warrant, but amazingly survives because Stalin has a Villainous Breakdown and never gives the order for Voroshilov’s execution. This actually happened, though Voroshilov was ultimately removed as Defense Commisar, because he really was quite incompetent.
    Voroshilov: Who killed off all our best generals, forty thousand of our best officers, called them enemies of the people, had them shot? Who trusted Hitler, who said he would not attack us?! Voroshilov?! No. It was you. It was you!
  • Corrupt Bureaucrat: Stalin rises to power through his position as General Secretary, the head of the Communist Party’s bureaucracy, which his rivals—most notably, Leon Trotsky—didn't view as important. Lenin even tries to give the job to Trotsky, but Trotsky considers it beneath him and tells Lenin, "Saddle a mule with it. Saddle Stalin."
  • Demoted to Extra: Vyaschlev Molotov, Stalin's No. 2 during his entire time in power (except his last few years), and Lazar Kaganovich, his Industrial minister and general hatchet man, both receive little screen time. The movie focuses more on Stalin's broken relationships—with Nadezdha, Bukharin, and Ordzhonikidze—than his more long-lasting ones.note 
  • Driven to Suicide: Both Nadezdha and Ordzhonikidze kill themselves as they become terribly disillusioned with what Stalin has become.
  • Enemy Mine: Stalin initially forms an alliance with Kamenev and Zinoviev against Trotsky, but later betrays them.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Played straight by Bukharin, who writes Stalin a note before being executed. Directly invoked by Kamenev, who tells Zinoviev to die as men who stood with Lenin. Zinoviev nevertheless completely subverts this, screaming, crying, and ultimately praying as he is about to be shot.
  • False Flag Operation: Stalin orders Kirov’s assassination as a way of providing an excuse for the Great Purges of the Soviet Communist Party.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: The major arc of the movie is how Stalin becomes even more brutal and tyrannical than the tsarist regime that the Bolsheviks overthrew. Nadezdha calls Stalin out for celebrating the Revolution even as millions of peasants starve, are imprisoned, and have their land taken away. Stalin sees all this as necessary to maintaining power and achieving national industrialization.
    Kamenev: Koba, let me tell you from experience we share that the Tsar's police were gentle compared to –
  • Gilligan Cut: A dramatic example. Stalin extracts false confessions from Kamenev and Zinoviev with the promise that they and their families’ lives would be spared. The scene cuts from them walking out of Stalin's office to being in prison on their way to execution.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Bukharin, whose political alliance with Stalin against Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev is glossed over. Rather, he is portrayed as the good Communist, a narrative promoted by the Mikhail Gorbachev’s regime as a way to envision a Soviet Communism without Stalin.
  • Klingon Promotion: Yezhov replaces Yagoda as head of the State Sec forces after Stalin accuses of Yagoda of plotting against him. Stalin then replaces Yezhov with Beria after Yezhov fails to get Bukharin to confess.
  • May–December Romance: Stalin was 23 years older than Nadezdha and was friends with her parents when she was a child. Nadezdha even recounts childhood memories of him as an adult playing with her.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Nadezdha’s mother Olga is critical of Stalin throughout the entire movie, both because of his policies and his treatment of her daughter. However, his father-in-law Sergei subverts this, standing by Stalin on both issues. Stalin lampshades this at Sergei’s funeral, and Sergei is the only person in the movie who Stalin is consistently nice to.
  • The Purge: Much of the movie is devoted to the Great Purges, in which Stalin has many of his former allies and colleagues arrested, tried, and executed.
  • The Rival: Leon Trotsky, even after Stalin successfully has Trotsky exiled.
  • Say Your Prayers: Zinoviev's final act before being executed is praying.
  • The Starscream: Beria, who spits at Stalin as Stalin lays dying. Beria is also the only subordinate who doesn’t cry at Stalin's death.
  • Villain Protagonist: Josef Stalin
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Many of the peasants believe that Stalin didn’t know about the brutal collectivization policies, and that if he did he would put a stop to them. Some of their leaders try to tell Stalin directly about what's going on; his only response is to critique them for coming up with complaints instead of solutions, and have the secret police arrest them the moment he's left.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Stalin has a major one after the German invasion of the Soviet Union. He only recovers when Molotov and Voroshilov (who had previously called him out for trusting Hitler) come to ask him to return and retake leadership.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The closing text of the movie tells how Beria is arrested, tried, and executed by his former colleagues, and Stalin’s daughter Svetlana ultimately defects from the Soviet Union.
  • You Wouldn't Shoot Me: Sergo Ordzhonikidze discovers that his brother has been tortured into giving false testimony against him. He grabs a pistol to shoot Stalin, who just says that he won't shoot because then Russia would fall into chaos, the fascists would invade and Sergo would go down in history as the man who betrayed Russia, and his family would suffer the consequences. If he shoots himself however, his death would be declared a heart attack and he would be buried with honours. Stalin then turns his back on him and walks out the door, pausing briefly on the stairs as he hears a gunshot.


Video Example(s):


Stalin Called Out

General Voroshilov risks his very life by telling Stalin that it was the dictator's fault that the Germans attacked. Even crazier: this actually happened.

How well does it match the trope?

4.88 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheReasonYouSuckSpeech

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