Movie Review: The Sessions
It’s not so much ‘let’s talk about sex’ as it is, ‘let’s just get right to it.’ The Sessions, based on a true story, is an honest, mature, and often funny journey about a middle-aged, bed-ridden male virgin with an iron lung looking for love; and sex.
It is 1988, and Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) is a poet, and polio victim, unable to do much with his body without the help of his constant caretakers. Never having been touched by a woman (in that way), the religious Mark, with approval of his priest, seeks help through a sex surrogate to lose his virginity before he dies.
He will die relatively soon; his has survived his ailment longer than predicated, and anticipating death within a decade, he wants to enjoy the pleasures and experiences afforded to others. He is extremely hesitant at work, and carries on with the ‘my mouth says no but my heart says yes,’ routine, as he is slowly pushed to contact someone to help him to this important life moment.
When not talking about, thinking about, or reading about sex, Mark is poised and poetic, charming friends and unleashing self-deprecating jokes to ease though who may be made uncomfortable by his condition. You may be a bit uncomfortable laughing, but like sex, we have to get over it.
In far too many pieces (think rom-coms, especially one with the younger generation), sex is confused with love, and that blurring is the catalyst for a slew of problems and tomfoolery. Here though, it truly and practically makes sense. Wanting to make love to a woman, Mark also wants to love a woman, and for him they are genuinely more the same than they should be for anyone else.
Instead of conflating the two, however, he must separate them when meeting the surrogate. Played by Helen Hunt, baring everything, Cheryl is a sex surrogate, tending to Mark’s both physical and emotional reservations. She is not a prostitute, as they discuss, and one of the reasons is because she sets a cap on the number of sessions the two can have to six. It makes sense initially as to differential more clearly what she does to what a prostitute does, but it is not until later on that the real reason is to separate love and sex.
Mark is not so different from anyone, and in his honest confessions, both to Cheryl and his tender, and helpful Father Brendan (William H. Macy, being slightly goofy though sincere), he is braver than most. He tries to differentiate between physical and emotional needs, between sex and sin, between, friendship and romance, and between work and play.
That’s not an easy thing to do, for someone of any age, and any health.