The sessions (2012)
Director: Ben Lewin
Writer: Ben Lewin, Mark O'Brien (article)
With: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy
One of the words that pop up in your head watching this movie is heartbreaking honesty.
Characterized as the Festival Hit of the year, “The Sessions” made an impression on the crowd for its obvious - almost unintentionally looking - naivety. It had gained an Oscar nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for the indeed extraordinary Helen Hunt and some more Festival awards with most important that of Sundance (Audience Award and Special Jury Prize).
Based on the article of Mark O'Brien, the same person we see on screen, the same unique character that suffered from polio at age of 6 and used an iron lung until his death, the true, inspiring story of a man who wanted to experience life in its full extent. A man who was craving for real love, for true feelings of affection and wanted to know everything about the magic of making love.
Mark is living a peaceful life at his house. He has a special lady to clean him up, help him shop his vintage shirts and feed him. After not feeling comfortable with his latest assistant, he goes on a hunt of finding the perfect candidate. Through this process he realizes how much he wants to seize being a virgin. How much he truly wants to experience sexual intercourse, aka having sex.
He is a devoted Catholic and with the ethical guide of his priest he decides to take this journey and hire a sex surrogate. The priest, such an amusing character given by William H. Macy, is his listener, his way of making amends with God himself, but most of all is his true friend who watches a grown disabled man with a pure heart to wish for something so natural and normal. He deletes any kind of religious boundaries and manages to advise him as a true friend.
After he already decided to act upon his decision to have sex and feel real love, he contacts his therapist who introduces him to Cheryl Cohen-Greene, a professional sex surrogate who has a normal, conventional life. The relationship they create will change them both. To his journey towards manhood, Mark discovers how he can love, how he can express himself and his tortured body.
And then except Helen Hunt, you get an astonishing performance by John Hawkes. His facial expressions of a simple, honest, full of humor disabled man transfer the uniqueness of this true story into our own eyes as we watch his life transforming into the beautiful experience it can be. By fulfilling only this simple wish, which for any other is something so “easy to get”, he is finally the person who always wanted to be – complete. Complete with love, sex, emotions, moments, happiness and life, no matter the difficulties.
The simplicity that accompanies The Sessions’ direction by Ben Lewin can be shown in the clean shots of his characters. The colorful universe Mark lives in, even if for some can provoke pity, Lewin manages to convey exactly the opposite. He makes you feel proud and admire Mark for his integrity, his way of thinking, his romance, his own extraordinary life.
The talent of Mark deleting any kind of awkwardness and taboo concerning sex and its content is also the director’s talent not to make it look weird in any context. Mark and his character win everyone over with his innocence, his ignorance, his unlikeness. He is sweet and so unpredictable beautiful, a beauty that comes from inside and glows on the outside. What if he is marked by the “disabled” tag, the people and their lives he touched with his simplicity are living proof that tags and people don’t match.
Mark’s story is a constant lesson to all of us who seek perfection and happiness in a life that is most of all beautiful and interesting just the way it is.