The poignant true story of a disabled poet who hired a sex surrogate to help him lose his virginity. The Sessions is about Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) who spent a majority of his life lying down flat on a gurney but still managed an education and was a prolific poet and journalist published through the aid of UC Berkeley. By 38-years old Mark confesses love for one of his caretakers, and admits lust for sex to his priest (William H. Macy portrays Father Brendan). Mark gets the “OK, proceed” endorsement from his priest to see a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt as Cheryl), an occupational standard of six sessions for two hours at a time. The anxiety of being 38, inexperienced and helpless is anxiety-laden. What’s perhaps troubling for Mark is the “performance” issue. Mark is a romantic who wants to not just ejaculate, but to pleasure his partner. Because he is immobile, he substitutes this inadequate feeling by using words and compliments.
The movie, which completely held my attention, is about polio-disabled living and sex. It could have delved more into Mark’s other published work, but it doesn’t and I fault it marginally for that. It tells everything you always wanted to know about a disabled person’s sexual first time. Hunt, in a sensual performance as Cheryl, is both nurturing and nude in long held shots. An emotional rapport is established – this is important to identify. A prostitute and a john is about corporeal flesh and bone interaction. What Mark’s sessions with Cheryl are about are both the physical and emotional connections. Even though he is helpless, Cheryl makes Mark more at ease with his self-image woes. In return, Mark takes considerable inventory of what he feels and thinks of his sex partner.
There are a lot of dumb$hits out there I meet every day. I quickly warmed to Mark with rapt admiration because of the generous attention he greets with everybody despite his handicaps. Here’s a man who indulges in his encounters with grateful detail and looks for the beauty beneath the surface while many of the rest of us move blindly through society. I had a sobering time during “The Sessions.” I laughed along with Mark during his deflowering discoveries.
95 Minutes. Rated R.
POIGNANT DRAMA / ADULT ORIENTATION / AFTERNOON THERAPY
Film Cousins: “My Left Foot” (1989); “The Sea Inside” (2004, Spain); “Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007, France); “The Intouchables” (2012, France).