‘Choke’ represents the love story of our times: despondent, selfish, and cynically optimistic. There’s a line said by Sam Rockwell’s character to the bizarrely attractive love interest, Kelly Macdonald, that sums up our voyeuristic and one-track ideals: ‘I can’t fuck you because I like you.’
Rather than yearning for lifetime companionship, like most romance comedies, Rockwell strives to drag the world down to his level to feel comfortable. That phrase ‘misery loves company’ couldn’t be closer to the truth.
There’s a line in the book, written by ‘Fight Club’ American satirist Chuck Palahniuk, which says a child of a single parent can’t get married until they’re divorced.
Director Clark Gregg explained, ‘[Rockwell] would have to break away from a co-dependent orbit around someone he loved, but couldn’t love back in a way that wasn’t damaging, in order to be intimate.’
Rockwell plays a sex addict forever vexed to complete the 4th step of the anonymous recovery program: Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of oneself. Were he to do such a thing, the repulsive cocktail may include one part reckless fornicator, ingenious grifter, adult orphan, and possible blood descendant of Jesus Christ.
In the movie, as in the book, Rockwell has sex, or attempts, with every encounter he makes. He isn’t smooth or cunning as much as preying on indicators women have (and picturing all of them naked’mdash;even nuns).
Given that there’s no love involved, sex is more of a pastime. Instead, Rockwell’s love is unhealthily reserved for his mother, Anjelica Houston, who resides in a mental hospital, suffering from dementia. Throughout his childhood, Rockwell was sent to live with foster parents, occasionally being snatched-up by his fugitive, activist mother.
‘Here’s this woman that’s going to make him in her image,’ Houston says, sitting at a roundtable in a Beverly Hill’s Hilton suite. ‘He’s going to learn all the under trappings of the modern world.’
This includes hospital phrases like, ‘Mr. Blue, you’re needed in room so-and-so,’ which is code for a patient who’s died.
Now, Rockwell is a med-school dropout, drudging through his job in Colonial America, and creating the morally nauseating (and outright hilarious) scam of choking in public restaurants.
Good Samaritans suckered into Heimlich-ing him, take an interest in his life occasionally sending envelopes filled with money, furthering their new-found hero status’mdash;money which is spent on his mother’s hospital bills.
But choking and being saved offers what sex cannot: compassion. Kelly Macdonald, who plays as Houston’s doctor, just might be crazy enough to help Rockwell make the connection between love and ‘fucking.’
Accompanying Rockwell in between visits to the hospital is fellow reject, and best friend, Brad William Henke. The ‘bromance’ is strong until Henke begins to find love, alienating Rockwell further from the world.
Writer-director Clark Gregg presents people we’re unlikely to meet in real life’mdash;the type seeking redemption in the most unsettling ways. But in the end it comes together with a hard-dealt twist and total self-embarrassment, debasing oneself in order to be saved.
As for the blood-child of Jesus Christ ‘hellip; it’s worth watching just for that.
Chuck Palahniuk enters the Beverly Hills suite, sits down, and watches with tiger stone-colored eyes as journalists snail their tape recorders across the table. He looks more like a Jehovah witness than unhinged Vonnegut.
He begins speaking and his fan base goes numb.
‘These people have transcended the compulsion to always look good. They stop presenting ongoing dignity’hellip;’ he continues talking, each journalist wondering why they had to wait nine years for a Palahniuk movie, and hoping the next one is close to production.