Monday, 18 March 2013

The Sessions

Sex and loosing one’s virginity are not always treated seriously in the movies, and not at all, if the person loosing his virginity is a 38 year old man paralysed from the neck down, a condition coursed by contracting childhood polio when aged six. The Sessions (2012) is based on a magazine article called ‘On Seeing a Sex Surrogate’ written by the subject of the film Mark O’Brien and interviews with Cheryl Cohen-Greene the sex surrogate in question. O’Brien is dependant on an iron lung that he can only leave for 3 to 4 hours per day.  Set in Berkeley California in 1988 it relates a story of a strong and determined but restricted man who has been a University graduate, writes poetry and works as a journalist. His biggest regret is that has never had sex or a sexual relationship although his sexual organ functions very well and can react embarrassingly when being washed by his assistant/carer. When commissioned to write an article about seeking a sex surrogate he realises there are such people and through his sex therapist engages a dedicated professional to educate him in the delights of intercourse. But not before checking with his unconventional priest Father Brendan that he will not be condemned to purgatory for sex before marriage!

Mark's use of a sex surrogate seems to be working out.....

This is a tremendously honest and brave film that deals with a subject that would generally be treated as a taboo subject for the cinema. Honest because although its an amusing film at times it does treat the sexual urges of a severely disabled man in an adult fashion. Brave in the way the actors have responded to polio victim Ben Lewin’s direction and screenplay, especially the 49-year-old Helen Hunt who plays Cheryl Cohen-Greene a happily married woman who because of her profession has to appear naked a lot of the time.  O’Brien is played by award winning actor John Hawkes who is forced to act from the neck upwards with facial expressions and dialogue only, which he does with fortitude. Father Brendan, in the form of William H Macy, is the sort of priest that makes church a place you would want to visit.

.......but will it condemn him to purgatory? 

This is a strangely beautiful and up lifting film that can be a little disturbing and uncomfortable when first approached but this feeling is soon forgotten. Although you realise that Mark O’Brien’s prognosis is obviously not good, his outlook on life would put most of us to shame. A charming, independent film, with an unusual storyline that disserves a far bigger audience than it got at the RBC Film Theatre this week. 

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