Saturday, 26 January 2013
My Session with "The Sessions"
In case you haven’t heard, Hollywood took a gigantic leap for Mankind late this past year and created a film centred around a man with a severe disability. The Sessions follows a man completely paralyzed after a bout with Polio, on his quest for sex and intimacy. If you ask me, it’s pretty awesome (albeit long overdue) that those down south finally pulled up their socks and made a movie not only focusing on a person with a disability, but also their sexual endeavor. And, to my pleasant surprise, the brief chronicle, based on Mark O’Brien’s autobiographical article On Seeing a Sex Surrogate, did not disappoint. Instead, it is a raw, witty, depiction of one man’s life, no stigmatism or stereotypes attached. Hopefully, the little blurb I have written here will at least motivate you to watch it and come up with your own thoughts.
For those of you who have boycotted movies in favour of it’s more active cousin, reading books, or just generally live under a rock, The Sessions plot is as follows:
Mark O’Brien (played by real-life, able-bodied John Hawkes), is a man paralyzed completely from the neck down from Polio, who spends majority of his life in an iron lung which helps him breath. Mark decides to consult with his priest about having sex out of wedlock. Knowing Mark on a personal level, the priest (played wonderfully by William H. Macy) decides that given Mark’s specific situation (what, with him being a virgin at 38 and all), can have a “free pass” in the bedroom. Fast forward a few weeks and Mark is in bed with his sex surrogate, (Helen Hunt) whose job is to act as a therapist in helping her clients overcome their physical and mental sexual limitations. Drama ensues, the details of which I will leave up to all those I know will run to download this movie promptly after reading this entry.
Before finding your best bootlegged copy, Google “movies on disabled people and sex”. You’’ll find The Sessions’ summary is one of the first links listed, a fair ways above the links to general sexuality info and some freaky-deaky wheelie fetish info further down. Aside from reiterating that people definitely make creepy sexual turn-ons out of anything, it can also be assumed that The Sessions is a first-of-its-kind movie within the Hollywood scope.
Part of what makes it so original is the way that it displays the most natural parts of the main character’s life, as “normal.” Shots of the Mark in his iron lung, or being bed-bathed and dressed by his attendant move naturally across the screen, with no extra-long shots or pausing for dramatic effect.This film is graciously careful to avoid any subtext of tragedy, courage, or any of those other voice-over themes feel-good movies like to inflate themselves with. There is no dramatic music when we see the man typing his article with the back of a pencil eraser controlled by his mouth. It just is. This is how Mark O’Brien did his thing, and hopefully, how he would’ve wanted to have been portrayed.
Now I can’t be sure that Mr. O'Brien would’ve approved entirely of the depiction of himself in the movie, since the poet and journalist died in 1999 from Post-Polio disease, but I have reason to believe he would not be repulsed by it. Directed and written Ben Lewin, the film takes from multiple legitimate sources to tell Mark O’Brien’s tale, something Mr. O’Brien himself would’ve likely approved of. Shots from Jessica Yu’s award-wining 1996 documentary of Mark O'Brien’s life Breathing Lessons are directly reenacted in Lewin’s film. One shot is wonderfully similar to the documentary, which includes Mark chatting with Faculty and friends post graduation ceremony, while a news reporter chatters about the courage students like mark have, and the overcoming of disability that it entails. If these shots—the real-life one of Mark mingling outside Berkley behind the reporter, and the reenacted one with John Hawkes—were juxtaposed, it would be hard to tell the difference.
Along the same lines, the only voice-over used in The Sessions is John Hawkes’, reading snippets of O’Brien’s poetry, as if to give veiwers an inside monologue and perspective that we would otherwise likely fill with the disabled dogma of courage, inspiration, and other googldygook. Instead, the narration of Mark’s poetry humanizes the movie, allowing veiwers to see O’brien’s life as it was, nothing more, and nothing less.
If you haven’t yet noticed a pattern, I really enjoyed the raw point of view that The Sessions has to offer. If exposure is the best educator, then everyone should watch this film. If for nothing else, then to educate yourselves.