Choke (2008 film)

Choke is a 2008 American black comedy film written and directed by Clark Gregg. The film stars Sam Rockwell and Anjelica Huston. Production took place in New Jersey in 2007. It premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and was purchased by Fox Searchlight Pictures for distribution. The film was released on September 26, 2008 and the DVD was released on February 17, 2009.

A silhouette of a large head with a pair of small legs dangling from its mouth as if a giant were swallowing a tiny woman whole.
Theatrical release poster
Directed byClark Gregg
Screenplay byClark Gregg
Based onChoke
by Chuck Palahniuk
Produced by
CinematographyTim Orr
Edited byJoe Klotz
Music byNathan Larson
Distributed byFox Searchlight Pictures
Release dates
Running time
92 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$3.4 million
Box office$4 million[2]

Choke is based on the 2001 novel of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk. It tells the story of a man who works in a colonial theme park, attends sexual addiction recovery meetings, and intentionally chokes on food in upscale restaurants so his "rescuers" would give him money out of sympathy and thus cover his mother's Alzheimer's disease hospital bills.


Victor Mancini is a sex addict who works as a reenactor of life in Colonial America. He works with his best friend, Denny, who is also a reformed sex addict. To support his hospitalized mother, Ida, Victor cons others by intentionally choking at restaurants to get money from his rescuers.

When he visits his mother one day, he meets Dr Paige Marshall, who takes care of her. She tells Victor that his mother's condition is worsening and that they could try an experimental stem cell technique that would require harvesting cells from the umbilical cord of a newborn baby with Victor's genes. She persuades Victor to have sex with her so she can have his child and save his mother.

Victor never knew his father and is anxious to obtain the information from his mother, but she never recognizes him when he visits. He asks Denny to pose as him and ask her questions. Denny agrees and reveals that Victor's mother kept a diary. Victor finds it, but it is in Italian. Paige tells Victor she can read Italian and agrees to translate the diary.

Victor and Paige try several times to have sex, but Victor cannot maintain an erection. After discussing it with Denny, Victor realizes he loves Paige. She then reveals to him that his mother may have fled Italy because she stole Jesus' foreskin, and used its cells to conceive Victor, making him the Second Coming. He is reluctant to believe but, in the end, accepts Paige's assertion. However, his mother finally recognizes him and tells him that she stole him as a baby and she has no idea who his birth parents are. As she tells him this, he feeds her chocolate pudding and accidentally chokes her to death.

While Paige tries to resuscitate Victor's mother, a hidden band around her wrist falls into Victor's view, revealing that she is a patient in the hospital—not a doctor. Paige then reveals that she was admitted to the hospital years ago, in a catatonic state, and fell in love with Victor through the stories his mother told her about him. As she was a former medical student, the nurses allowed her to wear a white coat, as it calmed her down. Paige, a voluntary patient, checks herself out without saying goodbye to Victor.

After his mother's funeral, Victor boards a plane. He goes to the bathroom and the door opens to reveal Paige joining him.


Writer Chuck Palahniuk makes a cameo appearance. He can be seen in the same row as Sam Rockwell on the plane just before the film ends.[3]



In April 2001, following the video and DVD success of the film adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's book Fight Club, the author sold feature film rights to his then-unpublished book Choke to Bandeira Entertainment under producer Beau Flynn.[5] Flynn optioned Choke on the request of actor Clark Gregg, who had received the book as a writing assignment and became fascinated with Choke's unflinching way of dealing with "the difficult topics of childhood trauma and sexual compulsion in a way that was both painful and hysterically funny". Gregg worked on the book for five years, trying to adapt it faithfully. He decided to write his personal version of the story, believing that it would be one that Chuck Palahniuk would oppose. To Gregg's surprise, the author liked and supported the departures made in Gregg's version.[6] Gregg described the difficulty of writing the script: "It's a tricky adaptation because like a lot of Chuck's work, it operates in a heightened satirical, dark world, yet this one is one of his black romantic comedies, so getting the tone right took me some time."[3]


Gregg was attached to film Choke in his directorial debut. Production was originally slated for 2006, but Gregg was temporarily occupied with a key role on the TV comedy series The New Adventures of Old Christine. By July 2007, Gregg cast actor Sam Rockwell in the lead role, as well as supporting cast members. Production began in the same month in New Jersey.[3] Filming lasted 25 days with a budget of $3.4 million. Gregg had acted with Rockwell in a play, and the director believed that Rockwell would switch effortlessly between the dramatic and comedic moments in the film.[6] A major filming location was the defunct Essex County Psychiatric Hospital in Cedar Grove. The hospital was considered a critical location by filmmakers, who believed that production would not have taken off without the discovered hospital, due to the project's minimal budget.[7]

As opposed to dark comedies that had a sustained tone, Gregg found Choke to be more tonally complex, and that it would veer between "extremely dramatic moments" and "absurdly silly ones". The director sought to find a way to combine the two elements, drawing inspiration from the Hal Ashby films Harold and Maude (1971) and Being There (1979) and contemporary films like Secretary (2002) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). In addition, the limited budget forced the director to consider economical measures throughout production.[6]


The song "Reckoner" from Radiohead's In Rainbows was used to play over the film's final credits. Palahniuk had said that the band would be writing the score for the film but a spokesman for the band later said that this was incorrect.[8]

The official soundtrack was released on iTunes on September 23, 2008.


Choke premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival on January 21, 2008,[9] where it won a Special Jury Prize for a dramatic work by an ensemble cast.[10] Having been positively received in its screening, the film was purchased for $5 million by Fox Searchlight Pictures for distribution.[9] Choke was also the closing film for the 10th Provincetown International Film Festival in Provincetown, Massachusetts on June 22, 2008.[11]

The film was originally scheduled for a commercial release on August 1, 2008,[12] but it was postponed to September 26, 2008.[13]

Critical responseEdit

The film received mixed reviews from critics. As of December 2021, review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 56% based on 144 reviews, with an average rating 5.70/10, with the consensus that "While bolstered by strong performances from Sam Rockwell and Anjelica Huston, Choke struggles to capture the tone of Chuck Palahniuk's novel."[14]Metacritic gives the film an average score of 47/100, based on 27 reviews, indicating mixed or average reviews.[15]


  1. ^ "CHOKE (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 2008-07-23. Retrieved 2013-01-20.
  2. ^ Choke at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Kit, Borys (2007-07-12). "2 get stuck with Gregg on 'Choke'". The Hollywood Reporter. Nielsen Company. Archived from the original on 2007-07-14. Retrieved 2007-07-16.
  4. ^ Silberman, Lucy (August 2008). "Gillian Jacobs". Interview: 28.
  5. ^ Bing, Jonathan (2001-04-11). "'Fight Club' author books pair of deals". Variety. Reed Business Information. Retrieved 2007-07-16.
  6. ^ a b c "Park City '08 Interview – Choke Director Clark Gregg". indieWire. 2008-01-02. Archived from the original on 2008-02-09. Retrieved 2008-03-13.
  7. ^ Read, Philip (2007-08-03). "Psychiatric facility is going 'Hollywood'". The Star-Ledger. Advance Publications. Retrieved 2007-08-07.
  8. ^ Michaels, Sean (2008-08-13). "Radiohead donate song to Palahniuk film adaptation". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-08-13.
  9. ^ a b Goldstein, Gregg; Steven Zeitchik (2008-01-22). "Searchlight gets hands on 'Choke'". The Hollywood Reporter. Nielsen Company. Retrieved 2008-01-23.[dead link]
  10. ^ "2008 Sundance Film Festival Announces Awards". Sundance Film Festival. 2008-01-26. Archived from the original on 2008-05-28. Retrieved 2008-05-24.
  11. ^ Goldstein, Gregg (2008-05-12). "Garcia Bernal, Lynch to be honored at fest". The Hollywood Reporter. Nielsen Company. Retrieved 2008-05-24.[dead link]
  12. ^ Piccalo, Gina (2008-01-25). "Will fans of Palahniuk's novel 'Choke' on the movie?". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. Retrieved 2008-01-25.
  13. ^ "Choke". Fox Searchlight Pictures. 20th Century Fox. Archived from the original on 2008-05-09. Retrieved 2008-05-27.
  14. ^ "Choke (2008): Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved December 9, 2021.
  15. ^ "Choke (2008): Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 2008-10-26.

External linksEdit