The Sessions tackles a notoriously difficult and awkward subject matter with great sensitivity and humour. The film is primarily about disability and sex- yet through these themes the film touches upon companionship, friendship, religion and just what life is all about.

At 38-years-old Mark O’Brien, played by the endlessly talented John Hawkes, is an accomplished writer, poet and journalist not to mention a successful graduate after studying a full degree in English. He’s made these achievements despite having crippling Polio since the age of six. He spends most of his time in an ‘Iron Lung’ that regulates his breathing and thus keeps him alive. Mark has a unique perspective on life and is seemingly optimistic about his prospects despite facing day to day struggles with the simplest of tasks. 

Although he has conquered a long list of successes there is still one thing that Mark has never done: Had sex- of any kind. He has all of the bodily functions, sensations and desire as an able-bodied person would, however he has no muscle control- meaning for example his hands have no use and he cannot sit up. He asks his priest for advice as a friend, not as religious guidance, about how he should tackle his urges. After much deliberation Mark decides to hire a sex surrogate.

He eventually finds a surrogate in Cheryl, played immaculately by Helen Hunt. Hunt is warm, believable and has to be commended for the amount of nude scenes she has to endure for this role! Cheryl is not a prostitute- although the main aim is to have intercourse, they can only have six sessions and Cheryl is there to provide an educational slant on emotional issues, body image and the mechanics if you will of sex.

Directed and written by Ben Lewin this is one of the most heartfelt and touching films you could hope to watch. Lewin is himself a Polio sufferer – a fact that perhaps is what gives the film its delicacy and realism.

Full credit has to go to Hawkes. Being the lead protagonist of a film and capturing the audience’s attention whilst acting from the lying down position or underneath the iron lung had to be tough to act. The film takes place predominantly in O’Brien’s portable bed or in a borrowed bed for The Sessions yet it never fails to entertain. The closeness of the camera shots, focusing mainly on the characters’ faces give a sense of intimacy that is perfect for the genre.

The character is loveable, wry and vulnerable emotionally as well as physically. His friendship with the priest is funny and places the juxtaposition of religious views and morality versus personal happiness and living life to the fullest. Also, O’Brien’s relationship with his two female assistants is sweet, painful and realistic.

Based on factual experiences- Mark O’Brien wrote an article on “Seeing a sex surrogate”- this film covers a lot territory that almost everyone can relate to. Perhaps most poignantly highlighting the need for love, closeness and friendship is all of its various forms.

About The Author

Emily Stockham

Emily is from South London and has a degree in English Literature. Emily is a marketing assistant who writes about films and music in her spare time. Horror and grindhouse are her thing - although she will happily watch anything if it means a trip to the cinema.