This film made my heart swoon with joy, my face hurt from laughing and my body ache with sadness. Based on a true story, it’s the delightfully frank tale of Mark O’Brian, by all accounts a wonderfully intelligent and witty man. When we meet Mark at his college graduation it takes a while to register that he’s lying down. Mark has polio, which leaves him unable to move any part of his body except from his head without assistance, and prevents him from breathing unaided. He spends the majority of his day at home, entombed inside an iron lung. From there, he conducts most of his life – remarkably, working as a freelance journalist and poet, communicating by pushing phone or computer buttons with a pencil held in his mouth. However, for three or four hours a day Mark can survive outside of the lung, on just a portable ventilator, and he certainly makes the most of this precious time.
I immediately liked Mark. Mischievous, feisty and funny whilst pragmatically, living life as fully as possible. His sharp mind and caustic wit, take him far beyond the restraints of his disability whilst, sadly, also emphasising his limitations. At 38, Mark is a virgin – a situation he finds frustrating and wants to rectify, if only to have the experience before he dies. So Mark employs a sex surrogate – a sex therapist named Cheryl who helps him explore not just her body but also his own body for the very first time.
A beautifully touching and unexpected relationship develops, as their emotional connection pushes professionally boundaries.
This is a wonderful tribute to Mark O’Brian. It’s an amazing legacy that, based on his diaries, the issue of disabled sex has made it onto the big screen and in such a heart warming and accessible way. It’s also clear that he deeply touched everyone he met. You feel Mark’s spirit throughout the film, not merely through the story but also through his touching poems which are feature strongly (and which had me blubbing by the end).
I can’t praise The Sessions enough. John Hawkes is absolutely outstanding as Mark. Helen Hunt is moving as the overly-involved Cheryl and the whole film has a great supporting cast. In a nutshell, it’s a must see movie.