The Sessions is based on the true story of Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes), a journalist, poet and polio survivor with a penchant for vintage shirts. He is confined to an iron lung for hours a day but that doesn’t stop him graduating from Berkeley in 1982. We meet him at the start of the film delivering an inspiring speech and asking to be viewed as a young man with the same hopes and aspirations of his peers.
Mark conducts a successful journalism career but by the time he is 38, he is lonely and craving companionship and intimacy. After seeking help from a therapist he meets Cheryl Cohen Green, a sex surrogate, played by Helen Hunt. He enlists her help with the aim of losing his virginity. Their first ‘session’ together involves ‘body awareness exercises’ and as their relationship develops, Mark learns not only about his sexuality, but about some of his deepest motivations. In turn, his humour, charm and authenticity affect Hunt’s character deeply and in ways she didn’t expect.
William H Macy plays a Catholic priest, Father Brendan, whose warm relationship with the religious Mark is a highlight of the film. Affable and honest, Father Brendan answers Mark’s innermost concerns with dignity and wit.
The Sessions is written and directed by Ben Lewin, an Australian filmmaker, himself a sufferer of childhood polio. It is a film about not defining a person by their disability, and being determined against the odds. The audience will relate to Mark’s need for love and his desire for a relationship. The final scene is moving, and we learn more about Mark and his real-life quest for romance.
Lewin has made a unique film that was extremely well received at the Sundance Film Festival. Predictions abound that John Hawkes’ performance will earn him an Oscar nomination. The physicality with which he portrays a quadriplegic man with breathing difficulties is convincing, and he does a wonderful job of allowing Mark’s personality to shine through. Helen Hunt is a gifted actress who is also an Oscar favourite for her portrayal of Cheryl.
There is potential for a greater connection between Hawkes and Hunt, even though their interaction is real enough. Important questions are raised about sex and people with disabilities. As such it is a thought-provoking film about compassion, tenderness and the achievements of a man’s life, one of which is finding love.
An inspiring true story about finding the way to go forward despite the limitations of the past.
The Sessions, in cinemas now!
Category: Film & TV