Every once in a long while a movie comes out that is so original that it takes the critical community by surprise. The Sessions, a very powerful and original drama is that movie.
First off. The Sessions is for about one in every 100 movie goers. It is not casual movie watching as it deals with weighty subjects and ones that are certain to make some squirm. It is a true story based on a man's essay from the 1980's about his sexual journey as an adult, after being terribly stricken and paralyzed as a young boy.
That man was Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes) who died in 1999 at the age of 49. O'Brien was struck down by polio and was left unable to move his total body from the neck down for virtually his entire life. He had to spend about 20 hours a day in an iron lung to survive. He can come out of it for a few hours at a time, but requires endless care 24 hours a day. His body can feel, he just has no muscle control at all.
He is a gifted poet, and writes beautiful sonnets with only the use of his mouth to type. He is also blessed with great insight, and snappy sense of humor that makes him very charming. He, at age 38, after consulting with his priest (William H. Macy) Mark decides he wants to have a physical love life, and takes the steps necessary to achieve that lofty goal. He researches and finds in San Francisco there are "sex surrogates." These are caring people that introduce handicapped people sex, and teach them what is needed to know later with a future partner. They are health care professionals that actually participate in lovemaking with the patient as best they can. But these sessions and this journey will not be easy.
O'Brien's surrogate is a women named Cheryl (Helen Hunt). They have sexual "sessions" She becomes part of Marks life briefly, and turns out she learns more about life from Mark than she thought. Mark also has a major impact on many other women from a caregiver that he falls in love with, without reciprocation. To a woman he finally meets later on in life till his death that he falls in love with, and it is returned. As it would be despite all his limitations, Mark ends up with many of the same situations and heartbreaks that we all have had. He is a gifted man, in a not so gifted body.
The Sessions is approached in a very straight forward fashion. They hold nothing back, with graphic nudity, and many sexual situations we are not used to seeing on screen are right there. There is nothing implied about this movie, it's all there. It is a story that you don't know, and you've never seen before. And in the end, I thought this was brave movie making on many fronts. Both the willingness for the late O'Brien to allow his powerful story to be told on screen, which is very different than having it simply read. And to the movie maker who made it so. The director of this movie also suffered from polio as a child.
This movie has gotten huge critical acclaim from many within the movie community. It has been honored by many organizations, and festivals. But it's a movie with very limited appeal, and really zooms in on a certain kind of movie goer. You will have to be a real movie lover to appreciate this. For some, this will be very uncomfortable.
The Sessions. Rated R - highly adult. Very brave, original, and well done.