“Choke” & “I Served The King Of England ”
 
            Both movies feature much nudity, but it’s more designed to be offhanded, ironic, titillating, or humorously casual than really erotic.  In both movies, the central character is a man who is attempting to overcome enormous personal problems, trying to find his way in a world where he largely feels lost and alone.  In both films, relationships are extremely difficult, likely to result in more heartache than fulfillment.  In both, the central character experiences some modicum of success, but always at the great price of giving up whatever ground he had already gained.  Though they both sound tragic, there is an air of comedic farce to both, preventing either from wallowing in its own grieving.  And, at the end, we find ourselves strangely attracted to these lovable losers.
            In “Choke,” Sam Rockwell plays Victor Mancini, a medical school dropout who is a slacker and con artist, but ostensibly for a good cause.  His mother, Ida (Anjelica Huston), is suffering from dementia, and to keep her in an expensive private facility, Victor makes money from gullible rescuers who save him with the Heimlich Maneuver in a posh restaurant, thereafter becoming bonded with him, and then supporting him, because now they feel permanently responsible for him.  Victor also works at a Williamsburg-type tourist attraction, playing a colonial laborer, but calling himself an historical interpreter.  His best friend, Denny (Brad William Henke), has fallen in love with an exotic dancer named Cherry Daiquiri (Gillian Jacobs), who can give impromptu theology lessons on Ephesians while standing at the refrigerator door in her nightie, gulping milk from the carton.  Victor is a sex addict who pretends to be in a therapy group, but is really just participating so he can “score” more meaningless sexual encounters.  But something changes in him when he meets his mother’s new doctor, Paige (Kelly Macdonald).  He begins to care about someone, and that begins to transform his life.  He now must consider the preposterous notion that sex and love might be closely related.  Yes, at its heart, this is a sweet romantic comedy, but the format sure doesn’t play like it.  Many women will be offput by the objectification of their entire gender, not to mention this movie’s dark, brooding, atmosphere of self-loathing, and its constant trivialization of meaningful relationships. 
            “I Served The King Of England ” (Obsluhoval jsem anglickeho krale) at least attempts a kind of diffident nobility. Jan Dite (played by Ivan Barney as the younger Jan and Oldrich Kaiser as the older Jan) is short, shy, and self-absorbed.  He grows up in a Czechoslovakia of the 1930’s, serving as a waiter, trying to advance his food-serving career by serving progressively more affluent clientele.  But the world is changing drastically around him.  The Nazi presence is getting stronger all the time, rival gangs are forming in the streets, and he impulsively saves a young girl named Liza (Julia Jentsch) from a bunch of hooligans, then discovers she is a German.  Though they are attracted to each other, he must endure a humiliating series of tests to determine his true lineage, and if he has any Aryan blood in his ancestry which would make him worthy to mate with someone of the pure race.  Yes, Adolph Hitler is idolized, and his racist hold on the populace taken quite seriously, as few modern movies attempt to chronicle.  Jan just plays along, even while Liza courageously travels to the Eastern front as a nurse, finding himself serving at a resort where “pure” Aryans are being developed, but the frolicking nudity of the perfect beauties is soon replaced by the grim spectacle of soldiers missing limbs, and as the results of the War get darker, Liza returns with valuable stamps purloined from J ewish evictees.  After the war, Jan finally opens the hotel of his own that he’s dreamed of all his life, but wait, now the Communists are in power, and they come to confiscate his possessions, saying that those proletariat indulgences now belong to the people, and Jan must serve one year in prison for every million he’s accumulated---fifteen years in all.  So the story is told by the older Jan, now just released from prison, remembering the days when life seemed so carefree.  Until it wasn’t. 
            Yes, in both movies the sexuality is blatant, and the nudity is rampant.  But the central characters are both sort of little lost boys looking for redemption wherever they can find it.  Not necessarily sinners or saints, just plain utterly depraved.  Calvin would be proud.
 
Questions For Discussion:
1)      What recent movies deal with the emergence of Hitler as a wildly popular politician with widespread appeal in 1930’s Germany ?
2)      Is there such a thing as justification for swindling others?
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas