“The Sessions”: Sexual Surrogacy, Based on Mark O’Brien’s Life

The Sessions. Sounds like this film is about therapy, doesn’t it? Well, it is. But not about the kind we usually think of.

The Sessions is based on the true story of a man, poet/journalist Mark O’Brien, who was paralyzed from the neck down at age six due to polio. He first wrote about his experiences pertinent to the movie in a 1990 article called “On Seeing a Sex Surrogate.” He died in 1999 at the age of 49.

Notably, director Ben Lewin is a polio survivor himself. Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter, describes the film, which hits some theaters tomorrow: “Using interior monologues to reveal the inner life of an essentially immobile man and interlacing levels that invoke religion, medicine, sex, psychology and art, writer-director Ben Lewin easily establishes audience sympathy for Mark (John Hawkes), a painfully thin man with an oddly twisted body who requires confinement to an iron lung for all but three or four hours per day.”

How does O’Brien get around? “(H)e’s wheeled on a gurney by a succession of assistants, principally Vera (the striking Moon Bloodgood). At 38, Mark figures that he’s ‘probably getting close to my due date’ and realizes that he’s never going to have sex unless he does something about it soon.”

Watch The Sessions trailer below, which introduces Mark’s relationship with his priest (William H. Macy) as well as his surrogate Cheryl (Helen Hunt):

Selected Reviews

Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter: “At once entirely frank and downright cuddly in the way it deals with the seldom-visited subject of the sex lives of people with disabilities…”

David Edelstein, New York Magazine: “The newest disability-of-the-week Oscar-bait picture is The Sessions, and it’s quirky and grounded enough to sneak past your more cynical defenses—the kind that would lead you, say, to label it a disability-of-the-week Oscar-bait picture.”

Roger Ebert: “‘The Sessions’ isn’t really about sex at all. It is about two people who can be of comfort to each other, and about the kindness that forms between them. This film rebukes and corrects countless brainless and cheap sex scenes in other movies. It’s a reminder that we must be kind to one another.”

Tomorrow, more about sexual surrogacy

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