Kevin's Review: Choke - Chew It Thoroughly
by Kevin Powers
September 26, 2008
Choke has got to be one of the most misshapen, lewd tales of 2008, and is aptly named since most will find it hard to swallow given its odd texture. At the same time, if chewed on and worked around properly, it's a satisfying film with a wonderfully complex taste. Behind the sex addiction, con artistry and degeneracy, lead character Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) is actually a pretty decent guy, trying his best to sort out his life and relationships. And though I doubt many have had a "man overboard" situation with a Ben Wa ball (aka anal beads), there's definitely something in Victor to which we can all relate.
Choke is named after Victor's favorite cheat, which is to purposefully shovel food down his gullet until he chokes, allowing a well-meaning person to come to his rescue. But not any person. Victor picks his savior carefully and judges them on their perceived sympathy and wealth. After the good samaritan helps dislodge the obstruction, Victor becomes the meek victim needing caregiving (mainly money). The unsuspecting heroes seem all too happy to help such a poor soul. When he's not struggling to breathe and collecting support, Victor plays a period citizen at a Colonial reenactment and attends group therapy for sex addiction.
How someone arrives at such a state of adulthood is no surprise if they were raised by Anjelica Huston's character, Ida. With an ideology the likes of Peter Pan and an appearance like the Wicked Witch of the West, Victor's mother is a scary bohemian and life-long deceiver who now resides in a private nursing home and suffers from increasing senility. Victor pays for his mother's care through his conning, and bangs most of the nursing staff and some of the patients since he regularly visits.
Victor's loyalty to this mother, even though she no longer really remembers him, is one of the complex emotional morsels of Choke. As you learn more of Victor's upbringing, which is done in writer Chuck Palahniuk's (Fight Club) trademark reverse story-telling, his present-day relationship to his mother is made all the more bewildering. Not that he shouldn't love Ida, per se, but understanding why he does and continues to do so is a great puzzle to work through. Watching Huston is also one of the best parts of Choke. She's simply amazing as the moral menace that surprisingly does mean well.
Rockwell's performance as Victor is spot on, as well. I've missed the guy that headlined Confessions of a Dangerous Mind back in 2002, but Rockwell's in top shape in Clarke Gregg's directorial debut. Choke has a variegated, dirty appearance that seems to suit Rockwell to an impressive degree. The film is certainly one that will turn many off. Palahniuk offends on so many fronts, yet manages to craft a center that is worth sifting through the seediness. As you take in Victor trying to understand his life and what he wants from it, banging and deceiving people all along the way, you're probably going to gag at first. But chewing on Choke for a bit reveals a really flavorful tale about one man's sordid life and his struggle to understand it.