Written by: Sal Crivelli, Special to CC2K
When I first delved into the most recent film adaptation of the apparent phenomena that is Chuck Palahniuk’s literary career, Choke, I was immediately interested. I had read the novel by the same name, and I looked forward to see how they treated (or perhaps, perverted) the source material. While Fight Club certainly had a flair of “edginess” to it (and propelled Edward Norton’s mainstream acting career), it was still far more transferable to the average movie-goer than Choke is. A little… easier to swallow? Hm? Get it? Do you? Good. Moving on…
Choke, as a novel, is good. It’s not a great novel, but it’s a good read. Foremost, it’s entertaining, and it meanders toward an ultimate purpose. Though really, you have to wonder about Palahniuk; is the anti-establishment diatribe he continually inserts into the mouths of his protagonist a legitimate critique of America, or is he having a big, ironic laugh at the expense of those who just eat that kind of stuff up? Would Palahniuk want to hang out with someone who thought Fight Club was awesome? I’m not sure either way.
Choke, the script, is a good (if not, better) translation of the novel, almost directly transferring every nuance from the page to what will be (ostensibly, this summer) on the screen. If anything, it cuts away some of the fat you find in a novel that’s really only about one character, and who is, in this case, a bastard.
This bastard is Victor Mancini, a 30 year-old med-school dropout, a sexaholic, and a Momma’s-Boy, who occasionally self-induces choking at high-end restaurants, all to make his “rescuer” feel better about his/herself. He supplements his mother’s hospital bills with money he gets from bilking his rescuers out of cash sent in “Get Well Soon” cards.
His more legitimate source of income comes from working as an actor/stableman at a colonial recreationist village, alongside his best (re: only) friend, Denny. Denny is simpler, bigger, and nicer than Victor, as well as a chronic masturbator. The one thing the two share (besides their near-crippling addiction to orgasms) is a deep and profound sense of loyalty.
The film flips between two periods: the present, where the main story takes place, and spotted key moments in Victor’s past. It is during these times when we see Victor’s mother, Ida, in her prime; a kind of Jane Fonda-induced, rebellion-spurred insanity. The opening scene of the film immediately shows us what kind of person Ida is: a completely crazy person who loves her son more than anything. In the present, his mother is relegated to a bed on the first floor, succumbing each day to her dementia. She is harsh, weak, frustrating, and almost entirely responsible for Victor’s sociopathic tendencies. In other words, she’s a rich, full character who (like her son) we cannot help but love, in spite of her. Anjelica Huston will dominate this role, and could certainly win herself an Academy Award nomination.
Her doctor is a woman named Paige Marshall, who happens to have her own bizarre set of issues, making her a perfect fit into this assortment of characters. In spite of Victor’s desperate, base need to screw nearly any woman he comes in contact with him, he cannot bring himself to ravish the quick-witted, intelligent, buxom doctor. In fact, when it comes to sex with her at all, he can’t even rise to the occasion.
The script reads oddly because of its inclusion of visual, film-devices that are meant to illustrate Victor’s sex-addiction. Still, these audio and visual devices/trickery are used to give the film a quick, fresh feeling, without becoming mired in its own primal, self-deprecating world. The odd perspectives of everyday life through the eyes of our protagonist are displayed in a unique way. Victor sees the world differently than most of us: his world rife with nakedness and constant reminders of the countless women he has defiled and abandoned. Another device the script utilizes is Victor’s narration, which accompanies us throughout the film (again, like Fight Club) but remains passively neutral throughout the revelations in the film (of which there are many, for all important characters).
Victor and his family have many vices, but it is Victor himself who wants us to hate him. He even seems to bend over backwards at times to reject his true (and potentially messianic) purpose, which is routinely a subject of interpretation throughout the script.
I found the script to be a stronger translation of the original material. The script writer, Clark Gregg, shows us the world of Victor Mancini in the only way I think is possible. One cannot make a film in which anal beads plays a pivotal metaphorical role, without having a true talent and respect for the craft of writing for film. It reads a little short, but so did the novel, so I’m not terribly surprised.
Believe it or not, in spite of how utterly deplorable our protagonist wants us to believe he is, and how disgusting his friends and family can be at times, there is real heart to this story. All the characters, to some extent, are victims, whether they’re self-inflicted issues, or issues brought on by another. The entire story is about victimization and how we internalize our pain, and ultimately deal with it. I suppose one could argue that the story of Choke is about the choices we can make, and the ones people make for us.