Monday, April 1, 2013

On Seeing a Sex Surrogate


There are movies that are straight-in-your-face and packed with action, twists and booms. Then there are movies that eat their way under your skin in less than 95 minutes and before you know it, you feel for each and every character in it. Some movies are insightful and make you think about yourself, your shortcomings, other people's struggles and give you the opportunity to see the world through someone else's eyes. And that can't ever be boring.
There are also movies that have such a terrible description that you're put off by it. "A man in an iron lung who wishes to lose his virginity contacts a professional sex surrogate with the help of his therapist and priest." Hm. Seriously? How is that supposed to be inviting for a nice evening in?
But that's what The Sessions (2012) is actually about. I have to admit that there is no other way to describe it if you're talking about the plot. Mark O'Brien (James Hawkes) was a real live man in the flesh, who suffered from polio and was tied to an iron lung. Outside of it he could survive only three to four hours at a time - with the help of his respirator. 43 years out of the 49 that he lived he spent paralysed but it didn't stop his creativity. He was and remained a poet and a writer who decided that he wanted to know physical love before his time was up. So he found a sex surrogate called Cheryl (Helen Hunt). I have never heard of anything like it before so I was slightly shocked at first to learn that this gentle housewife with a husband and a teenage son is going to teach Mark how to penetrate her and please himself and her. Whoa. Right?

"I believe in a God with a sense of humor. I would find it
absolutely intolerable not to be to able blame someone
for all this."
But the sweet, small independent movie is way more than just that. It's not only that Cheryl teaches Mark how to physically love a woman. He teaches her how to open up and be honest and true to herself and not only to those around her. By merely accepting her how she is. While he's learning how to be comfortable naked in bed with a beautiful woman, Mark also confides in his local priest. Father Brendan in the shape of William H. Macy is the kind of priest everyone would wish for. He basically embodies the type of priest believers look for when they try to confide in men of God. He is kind and not uptight, he is not rigid in his beliefs and sees needs of his flock as what they are and what they are meant to serve purpose for. He becomes Mark's friend and confidant through this hilarious and sweet journey. Helen Hunt got an oscar nomination but John Hawkes deserved one too and William H. Macy is just never ever disappointing. 

Did Cheryl's son know what her mother actually did for a living? I see it as a common question on forums. Teenagers can't possibly be too understanding of "my mother has sex for money" type of jobs. Her husband doesn't have a job and is rolling around the house all day and other men clearly get more of his wife than he does. Not only in a sexual way. They didn't seem to have a sexual or loving relationship at all, they were just plain living like a couple who has been together for twenty years or so. Yes, the relationship is bound to change after such a long time together but in the end it seemed like they were committed but not necessarily loving to each other. (I actually disagree with some of the opinions that her work is what made them that way.)

I think it's very important that these types of issues be addressed. There are many people in the world who are disabled in one way or another and they have the same wishes and needs that anyone else does. And I'm not only talking about sex. And as Mark is falling in love with Cheryl, it seems she's not as distanced as she'd like to professionally be. Mark is funny and smart, his wit is charming and he is as self-deprecating as he is broadminded. All the women in his life love him. But not that way. So when one time in the middle of the night the power goes out, the broadcast of his baseball match is cut short and his iron lung stops, he understands he will die and is completely prepared for it. Only his life is just about to begin.
This true story is outrageously beautiful and uncompromising in what it is. It's exhilarating, funny, heartwarming, brave and poignant. It gives you hope, it shows you what you have, it will make you look at anyone differently. Be it your annoying neighbor or uptight aunt. Everyone has a story that goes far deeper than the first glimpse you get. Remember that.

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