The Sessions is a beautiful story, tenderly told. Based on a widely linked 1990 magazine article, it is the (mostly) true story of Mark O’Brien, a thirty-something man with polio who lives confined to a wheeled bed or an iron lung and who, wishing to experience sexual connection, seeks out a sex surrogate. It is not a story of “triumphing over disability,” although there are various triumphs and more than one disabled character.
O’Brien, played by John Hawkes, is an observant Catholic who “can’t tolerate the idea of not having someone to blame for all this.” The movie cuts back and forth between the life he leads with attendants, friends, and the subjects of his writing, and his conversations with and confessions to Father Brendan, a liberal Berkeley priest (William H. Macy). The movie’s unshowy portrayal of O’Brien’s Catholicism is remarkable. O’Brien takes his religion seriously, and it provides a structure for both his succor and his shame, but it’s not a totalizing experience, just a part of his life. It’s one of many details — the Berkeley setting is another — that give the movie a subtle, lived-in specificity. When we first meet O’Brien, he’s crinkling his nose to fend off a sneeze; in two other scenes, characters lift their hands to scratch their noses, a throwaway gesture that illuminates the extent of O’Brien’s prison.
Helen Hunt plays Cheryl, the sex surrogate who O’Brien finds through a therapist. Hunt is matter-of-factly naked and sexual, and the movie’s comic heart lies in their awkward and tender sessions, limited to six. There is a drama of transference and counter-transference — more commonly known as a love story — that feels invented (the various articles bear that out), but the characters feel real throughout. One theme that returns is how O’Brien’s helpers’ partners get jealous of him — it’s well played with the boyfriend of one of his nurses, but a little strained with Cheryl’s husband.
Hawkes is a good bet for an Oscar nomination, but I’d bet against a win–the movie is moving, but not bombastically or unbearably so. There may be a little too much joy.
See any good movies?
Why should you suffer because Monday Movies is down the shore? Go on, tell us what you saw.
I confess I took a four day vacation last weekend and Friday was the first of those four days. When I first thought of FAC, it was about 7:00 and I was sitting at a restaurant, out on their lakefront deck, eating salmon and sipping down a Pacifico. That may sound like I’m flippant about my FAC duties, but I really do hate when I forget to make an effort to get something posted.
This week I was driving to work and a woman cut me off. She had been tailgating me, but I was already following the car in front of me too closely and getting over wouldn’t have done her any good. When she got the slightest bit of daylight in the center lane, she whipped over, passed me and squeezed into the too small space between my car and the one in front of me. This left about three feet between her rear bumper and my front bumper and I was sure to hold that distance for a while so she realized how close she had cut it.
When the traffic in our lane slowed down, I passed on the right and as I caught her eye I found myself calling her a couple of vile names. Not only did I say them, I made sure to be looking right at her as I did so. It was then that I kind of snapped back to sanity. What the hell was I doing? In my efforts to show my displeasure with her reckless and impatient style of driving, I had crossed several lines. A couple of these may have included recklessness and impatience.
I confess this feels more like a real confession than most of the things I post here because I felt awful about my behavior. I also felt awful about how common it’s become for me to get visibly angry about inconsiderate drivers. So for the third time in less than a month, I decided to cut out something I didn’t like about my day-to-day life. First, after being inspired by this very space, I gave up all forms of word snobbery. Then it was pork. Now, it’s road rage.
How about you good Friday reader? When you look back on the last week (or two), do you find any ugly bits that bring you shame? Please, feel free to attempt to cleanse them through sharing. Especially if it makes people overlook the ugly episode described above.
As life imitates art, I read this section in the isolated provinces, rural Ohio; the isolation I often feel in the summers of Oberlin can feel a lot like this section, almost entirely inside the Chilean exile Amalfitano’s head. Arguably, this section is about the tricks that loneliness can play on a person, those poor “chincuales” who “cannot sit still mentally” (200).
Amongst many other things, they interfere with good sex.
I hate that the cycling season has not yet started. I hate that I forgot why I was excited about the opportunity to hate. I hate that comment threads are getting shorter. I hate that The Wife is out of town this week. I hate that people in Greece feel bad. I hate that nothing out of the ordinary ever happens to me. I hate all these flares of indignation, certainly when they are of the type that self-extinguishes. I hate that Real Madrid-Barcelona is not a possible Champions League final. I hate that consequently Barcelona’s choir boy image and handball way of playing football will remain unchallenged as the culmination point of early XXIst century soccer. I hate that every quarter there is a next quarter. I hate that US elections are as nonsensical as Greek elections. I hate that everybody is all over everybody else and in the meantime finance goes on as always. I hate that I am bound to forget the exact starting hour of one of The Kids’ activities this week. I hate what I have not become.
Dear Readers, if I may: of the many to hate, pray tell which one bothers you most.
Calling all drinkers of beer!
I am conducting a super scientific (ha!) survey for a potential project and badly need some information. Please take 30 seconds to participate before your weekend begins. This is just for my sister and me and benefiting no one else.
If you do you will… earn free beer? wake up sexier? be more loved?… or have my genuine thanks– not nearly as good as the first three.
One kind of movie accomplishes great effects by finding a rich setting and sitting still in it. Consider David Gordon Green’s debut, George Washington. Another kind of movie is the ensemble piece that again, subordinates the clockworks of plot in favor of a mounting atmospheric pressure, like Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam. That film’s meager storylines accumulated momentum by being set against serial killer David Berkowitz’s New York rampage, the bicentennial, and a heat wave. Tanya Hamilton’s understated indie drama, Night Catches Us, walks its unique subject matter–the fallout in black communities from the fall of the Black Panther Party–outside the bounds of conventional storytelling, and in its stronger moments, creates atmospheric elements that suggest these other two films.
At its center, Night Catches Us tells the story of three people connected to and recovering from the height of the Black Power movement during its aftermath. Marcus is returning to Philadelphia in 1976 after a long time away. Patricia has remained there, becoming a criminal defense attorney. “Do’Right” has too, becoming a thug. Do’Right blames Marcus for selling out their mutual friend Neal (and Patricia’s husband) to the police, who shot him to death in a raid after he killed a police officer. That’s when Marcus left town.
A critical, though peripheral, role is played by Patricia’s nephew Jimmy, for whom Neal lives on as a martyr. As the world becomes crueler and more seemingly dominated by abusive white policemen, Jimmy exhumes the militant spirit of the Panthers, eventually sporting a beret and, fatefully, a gun.
The storytelling is slow but visually lush. Hamilton has a keen eye for urban forests. The credits suggest that the picture was shot entirely in the city of Philadelphia, but the city blocks are treetopped and weedy, and children play in hidden creeks.
Amid the atmospherics hides a potboiler–a triangle built on secrets and mistrust, a tinderbox city, an angry kid with a gun. Night Catches Us‘s reserve in deploying those elements isn’t entirely to its credit. Here, history is a hangover, a memory painful in its proximity but equally immobilizing. The treatment of crime, community and the law in the wake of Black Power is sophisticated, even-handed, and sad (not to mention found nowhere else in contemporary American film), but the sociological portrait is almost too close up to allow the story to flow from character and action. The graceful atmospherics stifle the story. It’s a shame, but not a disqualifying one.
Coming Attractions: Read the Book or Watch the Movie? featuring We Need To Talk About Kevin vs. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Also: Ludicrous, or Ludicrous and Unwatchable? featuring Thor vs. MI4: Ghost Protocol! Which is Monday Movies’ way of saying we had a little more time to watch than to write this week.