MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo By Fox Searchlight Pictures
Directed by Ben Lewin. Starring John Hawkes, Helen Hunt
We live in a sexualized culture in which recreational sex is taken for granted in films like The Hangover and cable television shows such as HBO’s Girls. Little girls are entered into beauty pageants as fashion models and popular songs are filled with crude language and promises of sexual favors
It’s no wonder that we often forget that sex is a gift from God, and intended to be treated with respect and care between consenting adults
The Sessions is a fact-based film that tells the story of Mark O’Brien (Hawkes), a 38-year-old poet who suffers from advanced polio, paralyzed from the neck down. Mark spends 80% of each day inside an iron lung and writes by using a pointer in his mouth to type on a keyboard. He travels around Berkeley lying prone on a gurney, accompanied by an aide. Mark is determined to experience physical intimacy and lose his virginity before he dies
Mark consults with his priest, the liberal-minded Fr. Brendan (William H. Macy), before making his decision to seek sex therapy. “In my heart I feel like he'll give you a free pass on this one,” Father Brendan says. “Go for it." Mark’s condition is critical – his body is twisted and frail (the real Mark O’ Brien weighted 60 lbs. and was 4’ 7”) – and he is referred to Cheryl Cohen-Green (Hunt), a sex surrogate who will help him reach his goal. “I am not a prostitute”, she says at their first session. “You don’t have to pay me up front.” Cheryl is a professional and she tells Mark that they will have no more than six sessions. There will also be no romantic aspects to their work together
Although there is much nudity in their time together and the film is frank about sex, there is nothing exploitative or sensational about The Sessions. In fact, after viewing the movie, I realized that there was no crude language or profanity at all, but a circle of love and support around Mr. O’Brien and his project, which he also decided to write up as an article for a literary journal.
I expected the sex scenes to be squirm-inducing but, instead, found them to be full of humor and warmth. The film is compassionate and caring, allowing us to get to know not only Mark’s other caregivers, but also Cheryl’s family at home
The Sessions is life affirming and filled with holy moments. It’s one of my favorite films from 2012 and highly recommended.
Five halos: A touching film about sexual intimacy and other physical and spiritual connections.
Two pitchforks: Nudity and clinical sexual conversations.
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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