Sundance: Choke

Our first film at Sundance this year was Choke, which was our third choice as we navigated the ticket lottery from our rather late slot. Luckily, the blurb at the Sundance site doesn’t do it justice.

Before the screening, the director warned us, “you know this is a dirty movie”. He wasn’t kidding, but the sex was part of the story, not thrown in for titillation. If your main character is an alcoholic, you show them drinking, and if your main character is a sex addict, you show sex. The director was an actor first and it was clear that he really cared about his actors. He would only ask them to do that if the scene was really important to the story.

The movie isn’t really about sex any more than it is about feigning choking in restaurants or colonial theme parks or mental hospitals. Pinning down the “aboutness” is a little hard because the characters are so specific (the movie received a Sundance special jury award for ensemble acting) and the themes are so big — deception, affection, fear, trust.

A lot of the action is in places where people are pretending or acting or deluded: a mental hospital, a colonial reenactment village, a strip club. Truths that don’t matter are uncovered, like the stripper Cherry Daiquiri leaning down and whispering “It’s not my real name.” Some revealed information is not true. Some truths are incomplete or unwelcome.

Q&A with the director was mostly interesting for what he said about Chuck Palahniuk, the author of the novel Choke. Chuck told him to not be too faithful to the book. The director, Clark Gregg, said he wasted a year and a half by not following that advice. He only really made progress on the screenplay after separating it from the book. Palahniuk feels that his merging and retelling stories that he hears, a bit like a chain letter, and that someone working with his story should do the same thing. Palahniuk said that he most enjoyed the parts of the film that were new.

Choke is pretty raunchy in spots, so if you are convinced that you could not enjoy a film where two people duck out of the sex addiction 12 step meeting to screw in the bathroom, then don’t see this movie. Otherwise, give it a chance, and take someone with you because you’ll want to talk about it afterwards.

And after you see it, I’ll tell you something the director told us. But it is a bit of a spoiler.

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