The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

The MPAA is Wrong: Choke is (really) PG-13

Written by: Patrick Kelly, CC2K TV Editor

Image“Don’t rape me on the bed.”

A couple of days ago I happened upon a very telling conversation between a girl and a guy. The girl and guy were part of a large group. They seemed like they could (possibly) be compatible, but they were not talking to each other at all. They were not glancing at each other. They were not playing footsie. As a matter of fact, it looked like they didn’t even know each other or want to know each other. Then this happened:

Girl: “Does anyone have any gum?"

Possible Cover Band Lead Singer: “How much do you want?” (Huh?)

G: “What?” (Correct Answer.)                                                                         

PCBLS: “I have a bunch of gum in my hotel room, do you want to go get some?”

Girl and guy walk upstairs together.



What the fuck? Seriously? I know that we’re in the age of supposed sexual freedom (supposed because it still doesn’t compare to the get down stampede of Europe), but where the fuck is the courting? You know what, screw courting. Where is the flirting? Is that now flirting and I’m just completely out of the loop; too old to know about signals by boredom snacks?

This mindblowingly common situation proves that we, as Americans, are behind. We’re prude and childish, and in an effort to catch up to where we are supposed to be, as a “cultured” society, we skipped over the natural sexual maturation. We all think we’re sexually advanced and we’re proud of it (just look at all of the American fetishes!) but we don’t really know what to do with our newfound sexual energy. The majority of adults in this country are like a bunch of 14 year olds: eager to play but completely clueless on how to use our libido.

Which brings us to Choke: It’s in the weirdly mature and sexually ignorant present that we have (almost) caught up to Chuck Palahniuk’s fucked up fiction. Fight Club is surreal. And unreal. Choke, with all of its sexual commentary, is surreal. And (very) real. I mean how else would you explain the quantity of gum someone is holding as a sexual qualifier in the real world? How else would you explain sex addiction as a “common” disease? 10 years ago (the book was released 7 years ago), Choke would seem as unrealistic as Fight Club. Today, you can’t help but think of friends who could possibly identify with the film’s main characters. Palahniuk’s characters are unrealistic and ridiculous, and apparently, so are we. This film is not about the future of relationships; it’s a documentation of the present.

“At least this looks like love. If you squint.”

That said: Choke is about sex addicts. Predominately, it’s about an overenthusiastic and extremely prolific masturbator (Brad Henke) and a stranger fucker who can only get off by random acts of onetime sex and can only feel loved after being saved from a self-induced choke (played by Sam Rockwell). The characters are somewhat particular. Victor, the choker, and Denny, the masturbator, have to find new reasons to live. For Denny, it’s the want to find something deeper than self-pleasuring. And for Victor, it’s to find out the story of who his father really is. They both want to start anew but first, they’ve got to recognize and then get past their fuckedupedness.  This is harder than it seems (mostly for Victor).  But really, the film is about love (of course!). And Choke represents nearly every category evenly (well, except for the kind of love that radiates from teenage pregnancy and shotgun weddings): the oppressive (Victor’s mom), the loveless (Victor), the romantic (Denny), the delusional (Paige Marshall), the hopeful (Lord High Charlie) and the absolutely immature (everybody). Come to think of it, this film might hold the most universal representation of love since Love, Actually.

Besides oddly (and scarily) reminding me of people I know, the film’s main characters easily carry the film’s naturally limited storyline. Even though I haven’t read the book, it seems like the classic case: the intricate and thorough storyline can’t possibly be smashed into an hour and a half time frame. Although the subversive undertones might be missed, the characters, and therefore the actors playing them, do an extremely noble job of carrying and magnifying Choke’s themes. 

“I’m Cherry Daiquiri. That’s not my real name.”

Choke is hilarious, but not in an entirely similar way to each person who watches it. I will guarantee that you will laugh at least once during the movie, but I will also guarantee that each person in the theater will laugh at a different combination of funny spots. Even though Choke has the same plot for everyone who watches it, the film’s wide range of humor allows the viewer to take what he or she wants from the movie. Whether it is a lot (wide range of humor: dry wit to sarcasm to rape jokes) or a little (solely liking the word fuck) there is something for everyone. And, to top it off, despite the hilarity of the people (and the well written dialogue that comes out of their mouths), the funniest character of the film might be the place they work: a Colonial Theme Park (think the South Park episode “Super Fun Time” with more witty banter).

It is because of this that Choke is the best-written film since Lars and the Real Girl. Since I haven’t read the book, I’m not really sure whom to credit with this trivial praise. Palahniuk is obviously responsible for the groundwork and the ideas for the characters. And, considering how simple (it really is if you think about it) the storyline is, Chuck made absolutely everything out of nothing. On the other hand, Clark Gregg (who played the fictional billionaire who ruined Sports Night as well as Lord High Charlie in this film) successfully converted a story so simple that it was complex, and properly (and effectively) delivered the characters that made the story so interesting in the first place. Regardless of where my insignificant praise lands, the writing is meticulous and brilliant. It’s completely subtle and it still manages to punch your right in your kidney. And, best of all, it proves (although it didn’t need any proving) that a film can still be funny in a completely original way. 

“Its not what you think.” “Isn’t that your penis in your hand?”

If we look at Choke as a tribute to our current collective sexual prowess or as a memorial for what love means today, it could seem a little depressing. I mean, in the 60’s/70’s they were fully aware of why they were orgying and liquid swapping and sexing everywhere: Because it was fun! But, I don’t think we’re in that bad of a spot today. This film is an accurate reflection of where we are in sex in general: We’re reached a point in sex where experimenting is normal, but we have no idea what it means or why we’re doing it. That’s not the worst problem to have.

Maybe I’m overreacting about this gum thing, but there are equally ridiculous instances happening out there everyday. And tomorrow there will be even more. Chuck’s characters, then, are all accurate representatives of what “common” people are like now: fucked up, but not really. I just don’t know whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.