From Chuck Palahniuk, author of the acclaimed Fight Club, comes another warped drama about parenthood, masculinity and sexuality. Currently on circuit, and directed by Clark Gregg, Choke might be without the usual machismo, high-speed car chases or incredible special effects — but don’t expect to leave the theatre without having at least one of your balls yanked by this dark drama.
Johnathan Dorfman’s production company, ATO Pictures co-produced the Sundance Festival award-winning documentary Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony (2002), an exploration of the role of music in the anti-apartheid struggle.
In a sentence, how would you describe Choke?
A twisted and hilarious story about sex addiction, love, colonial theme parks and the complicated relationship between mothers and sons.
Choke is almost surreal in its appeal; characters seem to float through a weird dream that probes childhood, identity and sexuality through dark, almost twisted humour. Why choose this story?
We love stories that are original in their conception and execution, that challenge the imagination, that reveal the parts of our personalities not always obvious and, most importantly, entertain the hell out of the audience.
I understand the screenplay took years to complete. What were the difficulties in converting this Palahniuk novel for the big screen?
Adaptations are notoriously difficult. There’s always going to be some fans of the novel who will be upset that it’s not a literal translation of the source. Clark’s pitch to Chuck was that this was his love story even if it’s somewhat twisted. As far as producing the film goes, the problems are always time and money — that old chestnut.
Palahniuk’s now famous Fight Club was about the modern man’s struggle for a masculine identity. This is a recurring theme in Palahniuk’s writings and Choke follows a similar theme: why are modern men suffering from this identity crisis?
Chuck says (and I quote): “You make an ongoing consent and effort to read a book so a book can depict things that are so extreme and so challenging that movies could never get away with. I want to play to that strength. I want to tell the stories that only books can tell.” Choke may go to some of those extremes but addiction, issues of love and sex, relationships with our mothers and our wives or girlfriends — all of these go to the core of the modern man’s crises.
The acting is superb. Sam Rockwell plays the complex and oversexed Victor Mancini with distinction. How did you go about finding the right man for the lead role?
I’d had a wonderful experience with Sam on Joshua, a previous film I produced, and many years ago Clark had acted with him in a play. When Clark told me he was considering Sam for the lead, I wholeheartedly supported the idea.
Comparisons with Fight Club are inevitable, but Choke is a very different film, with an alternative aesthetic and a much smaller budget. What was the idea behind giving the film such a gritty feel?
We wanted it to feel a little claustrophobic — something like the feeling you get when you choke. Also, one character, Victor, has chosen to live like a student while another called Denny still lives with his parents. Both don’t want to grow up and face certain personal truths — a contributory factor to their addiction.
Choke is a daring, offensive, but incisively hilarious satire on sex, madness and society. It is not everyone’s cup of tea, or is it?
Chuck says that when he was doing research on sex addiction and attended some recovery group sessions, the most interesting thing for him were the unexpected and unbelievable sexual exploits of the most normal-looking people. Everyone has a little bit of deviance somewhere, even if they hide it well.
Choke is now on circuit