The Sessions is an unlikely tale that combines several aspects that seem completely incompatible and yet weaves it all together to form a beautiful, wonderfully meshed story.
This is an autobiographical look at a portion of journalist and poet Mark O’Brien‘s life. One day O’Brien sets a goal to lose his virginity. However, there’s a number of rather sticky complications in his way.
First is his physical condition. O’Brien (played by John Hawkes) suffered from catastrophic after-effects of polio. He’s virtually paralyzed from the neck down and forced to spend all but a few hours each day inside an iron lung (a large cylinder that surrounds all of your body but your head and uses pressure to force you to breath).
He does have full feeling all over his body—including the ability to have an erection—but simply cannot move on his own. He has to employ aides to bathe him, feed him and roll him about town on a portable bed.
Then there’s the philosophical challenge. O’Brien’s Catholic and believes in the sanctity of his religion which states that sex out of wedlock is a sin. Marriage seems entirely impossible in his reality.
Mark decides to approach his neighborhood priest, Father Brendan (William H. Macy), for spiritual guidance. The priest, of course, has to come to grips with the conflict of wanting to help one of his most challenged flock and the seemingly clear directives of the church. The complexity multiplies when O’Brien decides that the best way to go about the task is to hire a sex surrogate named Cheryl (played by Helen Hunt).
The surrogate is a professional and has some hard rules. Chief among them is that she and Mark can only have a total of six sessions (thus the title). The idea is to then focus on specific goals along the way. Mark, of course, wants it all.
The interaction between every character is simply wonderful. To say much more would expose too much of the plot. Suffice to say that the acting talent is top-flight at ever level.
What we end up with is one of the most uniquely touching stories of recent memory and one that’s likely to stay with the viewer for quite some time. The awkwardness of the challenges and our inability to truly understand their depth melts away with every scene. By the end of the film we’re huge O’Brien fans but not in any traditional Hollywood-driven superficial way.
I do have one issue with the plot involving Father Brendan who seems to have very easily overlooked one major issue with the ordeal that’s virtually impossible to believe and that involves Cheryl’s personal situation. For me this one element hinted heavily at this character being a bit of a fictional creation.
Aside from that the rest of the film is a work of art and one I look forward to seeing again soon.