Learning from Josef Stalin: A Short Review of the Film “Archangel”

The movie, Archangel, is about a historian’s effort to dig deeper into the mysterious death of Stalin. His group of academicians from California University are in Moscow University to give talks and conduct further research on Stalin’s dictatorship in the ’20s.

Dr. Fluke (Daniel Craig) is lucky to have the ‘lone eyewitness’ to the death of Stalin. The old man with a nevus on his face reveals to the professor a notebook that was taken from Stalin’s secret vault when he was dying. The notebook is actually the diary of a girl from Archangel (a city in Russia’s northwest part) whom Stalin’s party recruited to be one of the servants to the leader. Stalin happened to be enamored by the girl’s charm, using his power to sleep with her. With the help of Zinaida, a prostitute and daughter to the old man holding the secret, the professor is led to believe that Stalin had a child with the servant lass.

They go to Archangel and visit the woman’s parents. The mother confirms that her daughter had a son who is 65 kilometers away in the mountains. Long story short, Stalin has a son, a scion who looks and thinks like his predecessor. Up in the mountains, an objective is being planned: For the son to bring Stalinism back in Russia in cahoots with Vladimir Mamantov, a writer with Stalinist political ambitions.

The current Russian government has had a hard time erasing the dark history, what with the presence of dissidents who still embrace Stalin’s kind of socialist ideas.

The movie ends with the coming out of Stalin’s son, who, however, during his speech at a train station, is shot to death by Zinaida. She does it to avenge the death of his Papu, who was ordered killed by Vladimir Mamantov. The ending suggests that the genie is out of the bottle, meaning that Russia will be in the crosshairs again as the world is presented with a number of controversies owing to the past.

I would not want to give serious thought about the movie, as derived from Robert Harris’ novel with the same title. I know that there are many films that kind of satirized and bashed Stalinism. But this is the only one I managed to watch. I thought that despite the weak script and production design, the movie succeeded in being straightforward, without pretending to be intellectual. It’s a great refresher module on Russia’s past and its reflection on Russia’s present.

The movie is about failed goals and dreams. Two of these are: a) Zinaida’s wish to live out of Kremlin. She was enticed by the professor’s offer for her to be with him in coming to New York. But because of her taking down Stalin’s son, her dream was dashed. b) The crusade by Stalin’s son and dissident Mamantov to bring Stalinism back in Russia. But the crusade was ended by Zinaida herself.

Throughout the film, it’s interesting how history is defined. The professor claims that a historical artifact brings a lot of money to the possessor. Zinaida discounts the value of history, claiming that it tells what happened but not what will happen. The professor’s lady colleague brushes off history as irrelevant to the the modern times. I don’t know historians will react to these definitions.

The film also shows how the generation next to Stalin’s bears the brunt. Take the case of Stalin’s son who espouses his father’s ways and his comrade’s daughter who does not care at all about the society. Two extremes.

It also unveils gender insensitivity of Russia’s past: strong male bonding and use of power to get advantage of the opposite sex.

Actually, I would have inhibited from doing this review as Stalinism-inspired activists might dismiss me as a mouthpiece of capitalism to mudsling socialism and communism. Watching the film, I’m more convinced that there’s no way to make an ideology, however great and noble it may sound, an excuse to kill, suppress, and threaten people who do not buy the idea. After all, ideology must be for all people, not for the select few. Otherwise, it ceases to be an ideology at all, but a cult.

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