The Sessions (2012)

Father Brendan (William H. Macy) listens intently as Mark (John Hawkes) makes yet another confession to him about his sexual activities.

After some of the films I’ve watched recently (not all reviewed here yet) it’s nice to have a change of pace and be able to sit down and watch a slower more adult film with nuance and proper dialogue. Based on the real-life story of Mark O’Brien (played here by John Hawkes), a poet and writer who has been paralysed by polio since childhood and is largely reliant on an iron lung to breathe. The film begins with him now in late thirties and yet to have a sexual experience.

Cheryl (Helen Hunt) is the married sex therapist who agrees to give him the six ‘sessions’, referred to in the title of the film. These start with simple foreplay and bodily sensations and will eventually progress to full penetrative sex and hopefully – simultaneous orgasm. However things are complicated, not just because of Mark’s disabilities but because like many of the females in Mark’s life, Cheryl begins to feel more emotionally attached to him that she would like…

Mark also has strong feelings for Cheryl and these, his internal conflicts and neuroses are cleverly expressed to us via a series of confessions/conversations with his priest friend Father Brendan (William H. Macy).

Thankfully given the sensitive subject matter everything is handled in a mature and adult way, with both humour and realism. Although considering this was made in 2012 there’s still a strange reticence to show male genitalia which can make the framing seem a bit odd at times.

Well told, with a good script and a high standard of acting this is ultimately a touching story of a disabled man who lives his life more fully than many able-bodied people do. Definitely worth watching.

7/10

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