Newspaper strangling vs. Hollywood neck-break
June 30, 2014 8:32 AM   Subscribe

Is it really possible for a person to kill another by twisting their neck the way stealthy soldiers do on movies? If so, why in the world would anyone ever strangle someone?

The very knowledge that strangulation ever occurs is what causes me to doubt whether the military "neck break" attack is an "option," since the latter is so obviously preferable in what would be every relative way (speed, anonymity, low effort, effectiveness, noise), yet stranglers are on the news and neck-breakers are in the movies.
posted by cake vandal to Media & Arts (6 answers total)
You need to be very strong to break someone's neck this way and it only works because you immobilize the body and swiftly rotate the head with a lot of force while the body remains in one place. And even then you'd have to get it to snap in the right place to cause instant death and not more flailing. Put simply: it's not a reliable way to kill someone and only works in very specific circumstances usually when the attacker has a lot of strength/size on the attackee. Strangulation works via mechanisms that people understand (no breathing = dead) and you can use it on a struggling person.


- Straight Dope
- Stack Exchange
- Martial Explorer "Crappy Technique of the week"
posted by jessamyn at 8:38 AM on June 30, 2014 [8 favorites]

why in the world would anyone ever strangle someone?

From a scriptwriter's point of view, there are two different emotions happening here. The military neck-break (as Hollywood does it) is clean, precise, unemotional. The strangling, however, is done in anger, as retribution, as a personal one-on-one statement of hatred. The latter method can move a plot along and reveal the inner thoughts of the killer; the former method doesn't.
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:47 AM on June 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

Garrotes are used for a reason. They provide the murderer much greater leverage than can be produced from one's muscles alone, and so give a higher likelihood of success.
posted by dfriedman at 8:47 AM on June 30, 2014

In real life, death is messy and sad and screamy; the concept that a person dies instantly with the minimal amount of body damage is important for movies to get you to root for the hero and not waste time. Heck, they've gone to where a gunshot injury lacks even a hole or blood and the person shot immediately falls to the floor and stops moving -- if you want the adventure film to keep moving without putting off the viewer, you need to have no external damage in order to avoid squeamishness and it has to be quick so you don't devote too many feet of film to the crushing of windpipes.
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:05 AM on June 30, 2014 [6 favorites]

Items in favor of chokes: you can know how well they work. You can train chokes full force on fully resisting opponents, starting from a neutral position. You can even have them try to punch you while you do it. In judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, I've choked dozens of trained people who were fighting back! (There, chokes are released just before--or, rarely, just after--unconsciousness. Putting someone to sleep takes only a few seconds; death takes minutes.) You can't practice killing someone with a neck-break with any degree of realism, which means you don't get the same kind of experience and certainty from your training.

Chokes also have the advantage of providing more control: they are generally applied from a position where it's very difficult for the opponent to escape. (The term of art is "dominant position" or "terminal hold", such as rear mount.) I can hold the person in a position where they can't fight back effectively and choke them at my leisure.

This of course takes longer and makes more noise than the magical Hollywood neck break, as well as actual sentry removal techniques (note the non-Hollywood neck break on page 7-8!).
posted by daveliepmann at 2:09 PM on June 30, 2014

This thread needs a bit of clarity between strangulation and choking. Strangulation as seen in the newspapers you refer to is commonly understood as cutting off air-flow to the lungs. This is a drawn-out and painful way to kill someone - you can cut off someone's ability to breath and they can still live and struggle for up to a few minutes in many cases. So, cutting off airflow to the lungs is sub-optimal.

A trained person can, however, adjust the pressure to the victim's throat/neck so that the pressure is being applied to the artery supplying blood-flow to the brain. This is commonly referred to as a choke-out. You can render the victim unconscious in a manner of seconds (which is as long as the majority of choke-outs used in sport typically last). The implications of a more sustained choke-out are fairly obvious, they lead to the same conclusion as sustained strangulation, but with significantly less resistance from the victim.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:55 PM on June 30, 2014

« Older Calling all osteologists.   |   Similar Music to This? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.