Baby boomers and beyond will know what an iron lung is but mention it to 25 year olds and younger, and they might bat an eye. The Sessions is based on a true story about Mark O’Brian who at the age of six was stricken with polio and paralyzed from the neck down. He was put into an iron lung – a huge iron machine that uses a pressure ventilator to help the patient breathe.
Mark made the best of his life as he could but went beyond what many could in such a situation. He majored in English at the University of California at Berkeley with the help of aides and became a journalist and poet by typing words with a stick in his mouth to a typewriter.
By adulthood Mark was missing out on a very important part of his life – sex! John Hawkes portrays Mark in the movie and the story is about how Mark learns there are actually sex therapists that have sex with physically handicapped people.
Cheryl (Helen Hunt), a very happily married woman and mother, makes her living as a sexual surrogate. She meets Mark, finds him likable and reasonable and takes him on as a patient for her standard six lessons. Hunt is not only great in the role, she brings humor and compassion to her character which is key in such an unordinary situation. She also is brave in that many of her scenes are without clothes.
“Probably the rarest thing in my profession is a good story, and I thought this one was beautiful,” Hunt said about her role. “It was bold and not like anything I’d read before.”
Hawkes also is amazing. He captures every essence of what one would expect of a man in this condition. Mark has not let his aliment deprive him of finding some richness in life, and when he meets Cheryl he savors the doors she opens and gracefully respects those she closes.
Mark has several helpers including Vera (Moon Bloodgood) and Amanda (Annika Marks) who really cares for him but knows she can’t give him the ultimate care and love he seeks.
Mark has one more person in his life that is very important to him, his priest Father Brendan (William H. Macy.) Of course Mark must clear his intentions with Father Brendan before he goes through with the sexual arrangement. Macy is great at creating humor in his character as he walks the walk with Mark but also does some soul searching about how important this decision is for both of them, and how it may change their lives.
This is a great story with good performances but anyone uncomfortable with nudity in a film may not want to see The Sessions.
Photo Credits: Fox Searchlight Pictures