“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:
What recent movies deal with the emergence of
Hitler as a wildly popular politician with widespread appeal in 1930’s
Is there such a thing as justification for
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace
Presbyterian Church, Greenville