The Sessions: The Festival Hit of the Year (2012)

Posted: November 18, 2012 in Drama

Mark O’Brien has led a tough life, stricken to near paralysis after developing polio. During a time of significant change, he welcomes in Father Brendan at his church and confides in him of his most recent happenings and concerns. After releasing one of his caretakers, he hires a young woman to help take care of him. When his growing feelings for her are not reciprocated, He turns back to Father Brendan to come up with a way to break through his anxieties. In combination with a research project that gets sent his way, Mark decides to contact a sex therapist to help him eliminate his virginity and build his confidence. Cheryl begins to hold sessions with Mark and slowly works to provide him an experience he never believed possible, but while they work through his sessions, an unmistakeable

Starring: John Hawkes (Mark O’Brien), Helen Hunt (Cheryl), William H. Macy (Father Brendan), Moon Bloodgood (Vera), Annika Marks (Amanda), Adam Arkin (Josh), W. Earl Brown (Rod), Robin Weigert (Susan), Blake Lindsley (Dr. Laura White), Ming Lo (Clerk), Jennifer Kumiyama (Carmen), Tobias Forrest (Greg), Jarrod Bailey (Tony), Rhea Perlman (Mikvah Lady)

Taking on the role of the charming Mark O’Brien, John Hawkes provides a whimsical presence in a movie that could be seen as conflicted. His dedication to the role is definitely noteworthy. Helen Hunt provides more of the dramatic element to the film, as she becomes the most significant subject of O’Brien’s exploration of an adult relationship. Macy is an absolute delight, first appearing rigid in his belief structure but opening up to O’Brien’s unusual topics of discussion for a man of the cloth. Moon Bloodgood initially comes off as cold but adds a great supporting element necessary for Hawke’s interpretation of his character.


Ben Lewin’s work to portray this beautiful story highlight the levity and the drama associated with the plight of a man whose positive personality and strength of faith seem to be at odds with his condition. Mark O’Brien’s struggles started when he was a child, stricken with polio and stealing the attention away from his parents and siblings. He felt guilty for the death of his brother and the stress he put on his family. Turning to his faith, he sought assistance acceptance for the pain he caused others. Breaking away from his internal struggles, if even for a moment, he got caught up in the idea of finally breaking his virginity. He struggled throughout the treatment with Cheryl because he saw himself developing deeper emotions with her through their physical acts and she challenged him to reconsider why he was so tough on himself.


While the idea of exploring sexuality for disabled people was a significant element of the film, the more significant focus of the story was on the emotional over the physical attachments. Mark became attached to his first caretaker after Father Brendan arrived because she had a kind personality and had to be so involved in his private life. When his feelings were not returned and he moved on to the therapy sessions with Cheryl, their physical relationship confused their therapy relationship. The challenge in this case was that she was starting to have similar feelings back with him. It was also during this time that Amanda returned to his life and admitted that she also had deep feelings for him but could not meet his needs. Eventually when Cheryl was out of the picture, he finally found the love of his life and she appreciated him as the whole, sarcastic and caring person he was.

This is a charming film that truly captures the heart and helps to create a real understanding of the plight and love experienced by Mark O’Brien.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5


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