Tuesday, November 03, 2009


Directed by: Clark Gregg
Writers: Clark Gregg (screenplay); Chuck Palahniuk (novel)
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Brad William Henke, Anjelica Huston, Kelly Macdonald
What does Chuck Palahniuk mean to you? Bizarre may be a good beginning. Or, if you are from the old school, you may say plain old sick. Or, probably twisted would be better word. I don't know.
But one thing is sure. For some, he is J D Salinger of our time, and 'Fight Club' is 'Catcher in the Rye' no less. You know, what I mean.
But you must give credits to David Fincher and Brad Pitt for bringing Palahniuk from the cult closet to a much wider recognition. Yet, he's not your average joe. If you like him, you love him, and if you don't, oh, he's dirty, vulgar, twisted.
Fight Club was a psychedelic noir, an anti-establishment slogan, seeped in nihilism. It was anti-capitalist before anti-capitalism was a fad.
Compared to this, his second work of fiction converted into a movie, 'Choke', is too personal, though it is equally twisted, if not more.
Disclaimer: This review is about the film 'Choke.' I haven’t read the book.
Like all Palahniuk characters, the protagonist anti-hero of ‘Choke’ is someone who is deranged, and one who lives in the fringes of the ‘normal’ society, not really an outsider, but someone who will take advantage of the mainstream for his own end.
Victor Mancini had a chaotic childhood. His mother was a junkie. He does not know who his father was. So, he was sent to live with foster parents by the authorities. But his mom will appear on and off and abduct Victor, before the authorities find him again, and send to an orphanage again.
Now, Ida Mancini is in a nursing home, which is expensive. So, Victor drops out from medical school so that he can pay for the bills. Now, he works in a theme park on colonial America and attend a sex-de-addiction support group, only to have anonymous sex.
In short, Victor grows up to be someone who cannot possibly have a normal relationship and all he wants his orgasm to achieve a state of nothingness. Things get worse when his mother stops recognising him. And that he does not have any money does not help the matter either.
Here we come to the central metaphor of the story, the act of choking. This is Victor’s modus operandi. He will go to a restaurant and pretend to choke on food. Invariably, some Good Samaritan or other will volunteer to help him. Now, here’s the catch. If someone saves your life, he is responsible for your life. So he must help you, especially if he hears your sob story. And Victor has sob stories galore.
There is an interesting implication to this whole choke business. Victor chokes on food to invite attention. This is his way of gaining sympathy. But once he has earned it, he will not maintain it in terms of relationships, but only as a source of income. This is why he cannot sympathise when his best friend falls in love with a stripper. Hence, he glories in anonymous sex.
The best part about Victor is that he has no illusion about himself. He knows he is bad, and he is not really trying to redeem himself. He really does not care about anything, except probably to know where he came from, who his father was. Things get complicated when he is made to believe that he is a ‘half-son’ of Jesus Christ, and a sweet doctor falls in love with him.
But in Palahniuk’s world nothing is simple and straight-forward. You will have to wait for the twist in the end. This way, Choke, at least the film, borrows heavily from 'Fight Club.' Both films are filled with the protagonist narrating the story. Both start with the narrator attending a support group and both the films end with a twist. The twist in 'Choke' is perhaps not such ‘what-the-fuck-is-happening’ as it was in case with 'Fight Club.' It’s a twist nonetheless, and we came to the point where we had started.
If all these sound very sad and silly, then it's my fault. Most of it are actually hilarious, especially because the players refuse to take their plight seriously.
The best thing about the film is its speed. From the first frame it moves in a frantically, without stopping to ponder over the issues, without stopping to revel in sentimentality, melodrama.
The actors are brilliant, everyone of them, including Anjelica Huston; none can play a better mad woman than her. Sam Rockwell makes us sympathise Victor without trying too hard.
And considering the subject matter, the film is not at all hard-core, and even the sex scenes are pretty normal, except probably the scene where a girl hires Victor to rape her, with very, very specific instructions. You do it her way, or not at all.

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