Children of the Revolution


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

In the middle of the 20th century there was a hard core of Western socialists who were steadfastly determined to stick with their preconception of socialism's superiority to capitalism. Their fanaticism reached such a point that they ignored the overwhelming and ever-mounting litany of problems in the Soviet Union while they denied or excused all of Stalin's crimes. The saddest example of this group was probably Julius Rosenberg, the American who actually conspired to help Joseph Stalin, one of the greatest monsters in human history, obtain an atomic bomb.

One such person was the grandfather of Peter Duncan, the author/director of Children of the Revolution. Duncan decided to write a script asking the question, "What might have convinced grandpa he was wrong?" Since Duncan seems to have determined that the answer was going to be "Nothing," he deemed black comedy the appropriate genre to express his conjectures. Duncan took his grandpa's politics and placed them inside of Joan, an intense female socialist growing up in Australia right after World War Two. For decades and decades, Joan remained a steadfast believer in both Stalin and the Soviet system, despite contradictory evidence which was overwhelming, stacked by a screenwriter to a point of certainty that no real-life evidence could ever achieve. To wit: (Or, as Snagglepuss might have said, "three wit, even.")

* When she was actually invited to the Soviet Union for the 1952 party conference, she met Stalin and observed first-hand that he was a buffoon. On their one night together, Stalin and his stooges got Joan drunk and performed "I Get a Kick Out of You."

* Shortly thereafter, Joan had sex with Stalin, which apparently turned out to be too much for the old boy, who died in their conjugal bed. Joan expected that everyone would be horrified and saddened, possibly even blaming her for the tragic loss of their leader. Instead, she observed everyone in the Kremlin, and thus everyone who actually knew what was going on in the Russian government, breaking out the champagne. Even Stalin's closest allies (Krushchev, Beria, and Malenkov) were giggling like schoolgirls as they celebrated the death of their leader.

* She was then exposed to the evidence of all of Stalin's murderous ways, from sources in Russia as well as in the West, all of which she ascribed to revisionist capitalist historians and/or counter-revolutionaries in the USSR.

* When the Soviet Union eventually collapsed and the obviously relieved Russian people giddily pulled down the statues of Lenin and others, Joan watched and declared it to be Armageddon.

* Here's the capper: she got pregnant on the night she slept with Stalin, and she saw her son grow eventually to be a Stalin clone, a monster in his own right. And still she refused to condemn Uncle Joe.

As I mentioned above, the answer to the original question was that there was absolutely nothing in existence that could have convinced her that her beliefs were wrong. There was unrealistically overwhelming evidence against her, and no evidence of any kind to support her side of the argument, yet her will to believe overcame everything. That is, I suppose, the nature of a true believer.

I've summarized the central thread of the film above, but there's a lot of sub-text and a lot of other thought-provoking ideas. Take for example Stalin's son. When he thinks he is the son of a humble Aussie carpenter, he sits around laughing at sitcoms and mooning over a sexy female cop, in imitation of his presumed dad. When he thinks he is the son of Stalin, he starts to act like Stalin. (As it turns out, it is possible that he is not Stalin's son. During the same night Joan slept with Stalin, the dictator died. A terrified and shocked Joan ended up seeking comfort by taking another man, a shifty double agent, into her bed.)

And there's a lot more going on as well, with every major plot twist derived beautifully and logically (if often absurdly) from some other earlier development. This is a smart little movie.

It is acted by a brilliant cast of some of the very best performers from Australia and New Zealand. Judy Davis stars; Rachel Griffiths plays the sexy cop; Sam Neill plays the double agent; Geoffrey Rush plays the kindly stepfather; Richard Roxburgh plays the son. The only major role not assumed by some major talent from the Southern Hemisphere is the part of Stalin, but in that case the director specifically recruited the outsider he envisioned in the part - and it was a masterstroke of casting. Who better to play a comic version of the absurdly cunning, treacherous and intimidating Stalin than Salieri himself, F. Murray Abraham? The F-Man outdid himself in this role, as he raised his Salieri character to an even higher level of crafty villainy, a level so absurd that he may even have outdone the real Stalin.

If the film has a significant flaw, it is that its tone is inconsistent in several ways. In the earlier scenes, the script passes lightly over the hard truths in favor of silliness. Toward the middle of the film, the screenplay dabbles in the absurd. (One example: officials try to break a prison hunger strike with the smell of sizzling, delicious bacon being prepared right in the cells.) The end of the movie may require a hankie or two when it verges on the tragic.

The performances offer the same kind of inconsistency. The F-Man's portrayal of Stalin goes all the way to obvious farce, and his three lieutenants are so fatuous they make Gilligan look like Socrates. Sam Neill plays the double agent with Strangelovesque grandstanding, as if he were auditioning for the part of Number Two in the old Prisoner series. (In fact, his character's name is "Nine.") Judy Davis, on the other hand, never tries for a laugh, and does not even seem to be aware that she is in a comedy. She offers an intense exaggeration of a humorless neurotic as if she were asking Charles Dickens to contact her across the ether and supply one of his familiar one-dimensional caricatures. Elsewhere, Geoffrey Rush is completely natural and believable as a regular guy. All those performances are eye-catching, but they seem to come from different films. This dissonance seems to have come from the writer/director, not the actors, since the roles seem to have been written that way.

Those criticisms are relatively minor, but they may have a powerful effect on your enjoyment of the film. I loved what was going on in the earlier, lighter stages, and that put me in a mood to enjoy more of the same. I was thus deeply disappointed when the film turned dark and heavy-handed. I'm not saying that the second half was bad, but rather that it's not what I was expecting as I settled in my easy chair. The two halves may well be two good movies taken separately, but they are very different ones, and I didn't enjoy the second one specifically because the first one put me in the mood for something else.


2 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
3 James Berardinelli (of 4 stars)
73 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
76 (of 100)










6.0 IMDB summary (of 10)











Box Office Mojo. It grossed $838,000 in arthouse distribution in 1997.











The only (female) nudity was a quick peek at the breasts of Rachel Griffiths in a brief and dark sex scene.

Richard Roxburgh showed his butt in the same scene.


Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


Good small-audience film which is somewhat spoiled by a disconnect between its first and second halves.