In the real world? Yeah. Killing someone by choking takes a
long time. It’s a legitimate way to kill someone, but not an efficient one, and
the timeframe you see in most films is a fraction of what you’d need to kill
someone. It is worth remembering, this can
kill you. This is one of those times where “safe” does not mean “non-lethal,”
just that it is not immediately lethal.
In films, choking is an ideal option. In a controlled
environment, it’s (relatively) safe. You can get both actors in frame together.
You’ve got a lot of options to set up the shots. Finally, it’s incredibly easy
to fake. You get the actors into position, one of them, “chokes,” the other
without putting any pressure on the windpipe or arteries, and play the scene
It’s probably worth remembering, (even if some actors forget
this part), that acting is a cooperative exercise. Your job isn’t just to hit
your marks, spit your lines, and (occasionally) devour any unattended scenery; you
also need to facilitate your fellow actors’ performances. Stage fighting is an excellent
example of this. It’s not about actual
violence, but it is about working together to create the illusion. If anyone
gets hurt in the process, that means you can’t just reset and do another take,
so this is something that the production staff and performers really want to
There are a lot of staples in film and stage violence that
do not translate to the real world. They survive because of a few factors: most
people don’t know what they’re seeing is unrealistic, it facilitates
opportunities for acting, and it is reasonably safe.
Choking is great on film, because it gives both actors
plenty of time to do whatever the script calls for. So long as no one is actually having trouble breathing, they
can do this all day until the shot comes out right. Characters die from this
because the power of plot compels them to, not because of any physiological
considerations. Audiences believe it kills characters because, “well, I’ve got
to breathe, right?” Without ever questioning how long they can actually go
without oxygen. The idea that effective chokes are about cutting off the flow
of blood to the brain never occurs to them.
If an actor does screw up, and accidentally starts choking
their coworker, you have a lot of
time to rectify that. This isn’t true for a lot of stunt fighting, where if
someone screws up, someone’s going to take a hit, and all that’s left is apologies,
or in some tragic cases, obituaries.
Choking, depending on where you put your pressure can also
include some insane stuff you probably wouldn’t think is safe. An example would
be the one handed choke that lifts the victim off the ground. You can do this a
couple ways, the easiest (without rigging) is to push them up a wall, keeping
your thumb and index finger under their jaw (against the bone), you’re actually
lifting their head, their throat is completely safe, the airway remains clear,
they can breathe, but it looks like you’re going full Darth Vader on them. Even
for someone standing right there, it can be difficult to realize the victim is
Beyond this, front facing chokes, like you’ll usually see in
films, are very difficult to use in a real situation. As I mentioned above,
they don’t really provide good access to the points you’d be trying to compress,
but, they’re also difficult to complete because the victim has a lot of options.
There’s a lot of counters to these, that range from simply pulling the hand
free, to breaking their arm at the elbow. Wrapping an arm around the attacker’s
and dragging it out of position will stop the choke, and tie up their arm.
So, no, this is something that’s used because it looks good
on film, not because it has any grounding in reality.