Monday, November 19, 2012

THE SESSIONS: a magnificent new movie

The Bug and I went yesterday to the Cinémas Palme D'Or here in Palm Desert to see The Sessions, starring John Hawkes, the brilliant Helen Hunt, William H. Macy, Rhea Pearlman and Adam Arkin, to name just a few.
This was truly a remarkable film in almost every way. I had some vague idea of the story because I had seen the trailers. But it is really one of the most tender and beautiful films I've seen in many years.
The film is based upon an article titled "On Seeing A Sex Surrogate" which written by Mark O'Brien published in The Sun magazine in the 90's.Sun Magazine (suggestion: see the movie first then read the fantastic article).
Mark O'Brien was just a boy when polio left him almost completely paralyzed from the below the neck. He overcame his disability and went on to complete his bachelor's degree in English at University of California at Berkeley and went on to join the Graduate School of Journalism at Berkley. He became a writer and a poet.
Mr. O'Brien spent most of his life surviving in an iron lung. He was able to live in his own home, but required a team of paid caretakers to ensure his survival in every way.
The article he wrote in The Sun spoke to his deep-seated feelings of shame about his sexuality. This shame seems to have been created from a family who was very puritanical in its views regarding sexuality, as well as his own physical deformities. Because of his sexual shame, he remained a virgin throughout his very professional and and social life.
The film begins with O'Brien's (played brilliantly by Hawke) who in his late 30's begins to explore his latent sexuality. He enlists a new priest at his local church as a sounding board and ultimately a dear friend (played equally brilliantly by Macy). O'Brien struggles with his issues but bravely confronts them and eventually researches and finds a professional sexual surrogate (Helen Hunt).
I don't want to spoil this film with the plot that happens after this. This was more information than I had when I saw it and it was a perfect wonderful movie, even though I was rather naive going in.
This movie is simply the most beautiful, tender film I have seen in a very long time. Hawkes, as O'Brien, delivers a performance of such virtuosity and at the same time such poignancy. By the end of the film, I found the character of O'Brien utterly a beautiful, erotic and perfect sexual man. The actor brings a full gamut of emotions from his shame, to his fear of sex, to his shame in having sex, to his eventual success in such a beautiful way, despite the fact that he essential only has one physical attribute to use as an actor: his face and voice. And he is simply gorgeous.
Macy, in the role of the sweet priest who supports O'Brien through his struggles with his Catholicism and shame of sexuality, is perfect as well.
Perhaps the film's success on every level can be credited to Helen Hunt. I can't imagine any other actress on the planet who would have the human integrity and honesty that it takes to play her character, Cheryl, the sexual surrogate. Few actress ever appear on film in multiple full frontal nudity scenes. But Hunt does so in The Sessions, in the most simple, elegant and proud way. She was simply gorgeous. But, at no moment was I uncomfortable, nor did I feel the actress was. She brings a professionalism to the part that I suppose must be synonymous to the way real sexual surrogates do when working.
I cannot say enough positive things about this film, particularly the performances of Hawkes and Hunt and every other actor in the ensemble.. It is a flawless movie.

This is movie is very frank when it comes to sexuality. The interesting thing was that even though I was seeing the film with my 78 year old mother sitting next to me, I never felt uncomfortable (I think she felt the same way).

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