The Sessions is a film about how everything on the surface isn’t as it seems. Mark O’Brien is for all intents and purposes paralyzed from the neck down, and after some heartbreak and looking his eventual mortality in the face, decides “Hey, I should probably try and have sex.” He eventually hires a sex therapist to “help” him with this endeavor, and help him she certainly does. Even in his condition Mark is a quick-witted guy who uses sarcasm, his condition and the people around him to mask his true feelings. Under this veil is a nervous, neurotic and scared man who is afraid of new sensations, the fear of the unknown and letting yourself go fully in the physical or metaphorical arms of another. Sure, Mark may see himself as a romantic and companionship with a woman is something he wants, leading to his marriage proposal to a caretake being turned down, but he never fully realizes what he truly wants and needs until Cheryl, his sex therapist, get him to open up.
Cheryl’s job on the surface is to help disabled people learn about their bodies and eventually become able to sexually satisfy themselves and learn to have sex with others. Along with this though, she gets her “clients” to open up emotionally and overcome these burdens that are intrinsically tied to the physical part of things. Mark is a brittle person of physical and emotional stature, being physically stunted by his crippling from polio, and emotionally stunted after continually believing he was the source of his sisters death when they were children. Mark and Cheryl’s relationship reaches the brink of something larger happening than the confines of her job would entail, but sadly but also rightfully they pull back when the wounds are the freshest and most susceptible to pain. Mark is a better and more open person through this pain though, a learned experience that opened a door for Mark, let all those feelings out, and then proceeded to stick a door stop under it, leaving it open. Mark finds someone elso who loves him for him, his jokes, love of baseball and the human element that many might miss behind his iron lung. Mark has found his “Cheryl.”
Father Brendan on the surface seems like a regular priest, but as his relationship furthers with Mark, again it’s the human elements and Brendan’s understanding of Mark’s emotional predicaments, and its opposition to Catholicism that make him differ. Father Brendan drinks beer and smokes cigarettes, but those aren’t the things that make him most different or affable. Mark is a unique person and a unique case, where even under the banner of religion, Father Brendan expresses his true feelings and though toward Mark, whether it flies in the face of his beliefs or not. A good natured confidant who doesn’t judge Mark at all is something who he desperately needs to break down all these walls that surround him, and luckily he has a few.
The Sessions is blessed with a uniformly perfect cast who are all up to their respective challenges no matter their significance or penance to a more comedic or dramatic side. It’s a funny, sad and uplifting film about being comfortable in your body, allowing others to truly see you, and finding and cultivating connections with people, no matter their physical or emotional proclivities. Mark becomes free and because of this his last nine years of his life are the most grand and enjoyable, if only we could all be so lucky.