Film Friday: The Death of Stalin

There is an age-old saying – power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Well, if ever there was a film about absolute power and corruption, this is it. Comrade Stalin rules Russia with an iron fist and a cloak of tyranny. When he phones up Comrade Andryev, demanding a recording of the concert he has just staged, all panic breaks loose. The concert has not been recorded and so Andryev has to haul the audience and orchestra back in to do the whole thing again, even co-opting a few peasants who’ve never heard of Mozart to swell the numbers. He also has to bribe the pianist when she refuses to do it, because Stalin has murdered her friends and family. When the soldiers come for the recording this happens…

(warning: this clip contains swearing at the end)

Everyone in this film is terrified of Stalin and his corrupt take on power – until Stalin dies, and then there’s a ruthless and at times comedic struggle for power. The men close to Stalin are desperate to cling to the power they have. In the film Schindler’s List there is a scene when compassionate businessman Oscar Schindler tries to persuade the cruel Amon Goeth to rethink his view of power.

If there is one person who completely subverted the whole notion of power it is surely Jesus. The man who knew what it was to control everything in the universe, gave up that power and chose humility and servant-hood instead. In a desert he was tempted to use power the way so many humans do, to get his own way, but he refused. And when faced with the temptation to avoid submitting himself to death he prayed for God’s will to be done. And God knew that the way to change everything was the way of surrender and weakness. To forgive rather than punish, to invite rather than control. As shown by Aslan in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, when he submitted to death on the stone table in order to bring life to Narnia. Philippians chapter in the New Testament part of the Bible features a hymn about Jesus which sums up the way he turned power on its head: ‘Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross. Because of this, God raised him up to the heights of heaven and gave him a name that is above every other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ One of the most challenging verses in the Bible, I find, occurs in 2 Corinthians 12 v 9, when Paul tells us that sometimes God’s power works best through our weakness. Who wants to appear weak? I’m all for looking strong and sorted out. But I think again on the miracles of Jesus, he did some extraordinarily powerful things – calming storms and feeding thousands of people. Yet it was when he was totally weak, strung up and dying like a criminal, that he did his most powerful miracle. At that point he was changing people, history and the whole universe.

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