"Even the worst blowjob is better than smelling the
greatest rose or watching the greatest sunset."
Choke is a film based on a novel by Chuck
Palahniuk, the author of Fight Club. Some of the
Fight Club cultists found this film disappointing.
Their negative reactions are astounding. People
argued that it was too frothy and romantic. Mind
you, this is a book that ridicules just about
anything people hold dear or sacred: religion,
personal development, childhood trauma, recovery
from addiction, and love.
And people found it too warm.
Man, those Chuck Palahniuk fans are hard to please.
It's a story about ... well, it's complicated. Our
hero has some psychological problems brought on by
his odd childhood with a mom who is a con-artist and
not a little bit loony. He's a sex addict. He fakes
choking regularly so that he can get people to save
him. He likes the outpouring of love that his
saviors lavish on him, and he also likes the money
they almost invariably contribute after he lays a
sob story on them. Since he's basically drifting
through life aimlessly, his profession is not much
of a profession at all. He dresses up like an 18th
century American colonist at one of those historical
His life is further complicated by the fact that
his mother is dying and lapsing into senile
dementia, but he remains a dutiful son, visiting her
regularly, and using all of the money from his
choking scam to provide her with proper care. The
visits are challenging, to say the least, since mom
does not recognize him, so he has to play whatever
role her current delusions assign him. His mother's
mental fog is especially frustrating since he would
like her to regain clarity long enough to tell him
who his father is. He finds out that she has written
a diary, but it's in Italian, so he needs a
translator - enter the love interest. The identity
of his father is a shocker. It's God. It seems that
his Italian mother cloned him from a sacred Catholic
relic - the foreskin of Jesus. Since he is a clone,
in effect, he is Jesus. Or so it seems.
In addition to all that, there are numerous
flashback scenes about his childhood, there is a
sub-plot about his roommate's burgeoning
relationship with a stripper, there are minor
subplots within the colonial re-enactment community,
and there is a completely unnecessary encounter with
another sex addict who wants our man to fulfill her
rape fantasy in an extremely specific (and
That sounds like a lot to cover, doesn't it? It is.
In fact, it's too much.
I can see why the screenwriter was tempted to
include all those elements from the book, because
it's all good stuff, and there are great lines and
memorable set-pieces within each scenario except the
childhood flashbacks. They needed to go away
altogether. The childhood scenes were an integral
part of the book, which concludes with one of them,
but in the film they just seem like distractions
from the story. Worse still, they are boring, and
Angelica Huston's "youth" make-up is neither
flattering nor convincing. But apart from those
flashbacks, the material is all quite amusing, and
the actor Sam Rockwell sells it all beautifully.
Unfortunately, the resulting whole is less than the
sum of its parts. Anarchic, free-wheeling techniques
which work beautifully on paper don't always render
well on celluloid, as you know if you're still
waiting for a great movie to come from the works of
Joseph Heller or Kurt Vonnegut. A film like this has
only about 90 minutes to tell a story, involve us in
characters, deliver its emotional punch, make us
laugh, and make some kind of point. This particular
film needs a tighter focus.
I enjoyed it anyway. Sure it's not Fight Club, but
Rockwell and the other actors have some great comic
timing, the film is filled with Palahniuk's zingers,
and the character development can be poignant. I
didn't mind at all that the film added a small
amount of redemption towards the end. I don't really
agree with the hardcore Fight Club fans who wanted
something darker. In my opinion a minuscule dash of
hope made the film a little more accessible than
what might have resulted from a literal
interpretation of the book's ambiguous ending, and
the screenwriter didn't slather on hope like an
Obama speech, which would have been grating. A
little dab of it seemed to work just fine.
In fact, I have to say that I liked the film quite
a bit. It has its flaws, but its virtues are
greater. I was moved at times, and I laughed out
loud quite often. What the hell else does one need
from a film?