Friday, November 16, 2012

Second Opinion: The Sessions

Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes) spends the majority of his day in an Iron Lung. He has a portable device which he can use for up to 4 hours when outside of the home but that depends on how he feels. His movements are based on tilting his head, moving his nose, and his overall eye expressions. We first meet Mark in a real life news report from his student days at Berkley. He is suffering from polio and has an electric gurney that has mirrors above his head so he can see where he is going.

A few years later Mark is a poet and writer living alone with an Aid that is rough and borderline abusive. Although Mark's muscles do not work, due to the polio which he has had since the age of 6, his mind is clear and sharp. Having lost his motorized gurney, after several prior accidents, Mark needs an attendant's assistance to get around. This includes his regular trips to church where he not only gives confession to the local priest Father Brendan (William H Macy), but also seeks approval to fire his abusive Aid.

The new attendant Amanda (Annika Marks) pays a lot of attention to Mark. She takes him to get new shirts, out for picnics, and is gentle and kind to him. So much so that Amanda's boyfriend becomes jealous of the attention. Mark asks Amanda to marry him and she is flustered and leaves. Heartbroken, Mark gets a new attendant Vera (Moon Bloodgood) who works well with his routine.

One day Mark gets a call from his publisher with a request to write a story on the sexual experiences of the disabled. Mark decides to write the article and interviews some disabled people. The interviews give Mark the idea to have sex himself. He is 38 years old and its now or never. His psychologist recommends Cheryl (Helen Hunt) who is a sex surrogate that works with the disabled. The sessions are regulated to 6 encounters, and Cheryl will not answer any personal questions. She records notes on each session, reports back to the psychologist and will not meet or have any contact with the patient outside of the sessions themselves.

At first Mark is very tentative but grows conformable with Cheryl and becomes very attached. He writes her a poem that Cheryl's husband Josh finds and throws out. Cheryl meets Mark for coffee which is against the rules. They have the fourth session and decide to stop as Cheryl is more emotional than usual. She ends up sitting in her car crying afterwards as Mark has Vera has to bring her the payment.

A few days later, Vera and Mark are out in the neighbourhood and Amanda reemerges into his life. Mark discusses the encounter with Father Brendan noting that Amanda loves him but not in a physical way. Convinced he is destined to live alone, a close call during a power outage provides an unlikely source of optimism. The event leads Mark to meet Susan (Robin Weigert), a volunteer at the local hospital.

The Sessions is a touching, poignant piece with great performances from John Hawkes and Helen Hunt. Both roles are very rich and could lead to nominations during award season. William H. Macy provides comic relief as Mark's confessor. The content could have been presented in a depressing way but, in spite of the subject manner, the film has many refreshingly funny moments. The Sessions is a film that I would definitely recommend.

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