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The Sessions | 2012 | R | - 9.2.5

Based on a true story about California poet-journalist Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes) who was paralyzed below the neck by polio. Stuck in an iron lung, he hires a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) in order to lose his virginity after consulting with his priest (William H. Macy). Also with Moon Bloodgood, Annika Marks, Adam Arkin and Rhea Perlman. Directed by Ben Lewis. [1:34]

SEX/NUDITY 9 - The film focuses heavily on the mechanics of sex and features a substantial amount of nudity, sexual activity and sexual references; a female sex surrogate engages in activities focused on body awareness, oral sex, masturbation and intercourse with a paralyzed man -- she is married and has a son, and husband sometimes disapproves of her work.
 Four graphic sex scenes depict a female sex surrogate working with a paralyzed man that lies in bed and cannot move (we see his bare chest, arms, shoulders, abdomen, partial public hair and one bare thigh sticking out from under a sheet) and the sex surrogate undresses in each scene and we see her full nude body several times, front and back, including pubic hair: she undresses the man and frequently names genital parts and functions, including penis, vulva and vagina along with erections, masturbation and orgasms; in the first therapy session, she caresses the man's hair, face, arms and hands and places one of his hands on her face, chest and both breasts, then she rubs his abdomen and under a sheet that covers his legs and genitals, rubs his genitals as he gasps and groans in orgasm; in three other sessions, she caresses his entire body, sits on top of his abdomen and says she is guiding his penis into her (this is not visible), he groans in orgasm each time and she gasps in orgasm in the last session (we do not see any genital action or thrusting); in the second session, we see her squatting with her back to the camera, over the man's face and hear him gurgling as he performs oral sex (the camera pans to her face and we see her grimacing) until they stop the activity when he says he is having trouble breathing and performing oral sex simultaneously; in the last session, the man and the woman lie in bed side by side, covered only from the waist down by a sheet (we see both of their bare chests, his navel and her breasts and nipples.
 A woman in a synagogue wears a long white bathrobe and removes it to reveal full frontal and full back nudity; a female attendant inspects the woman's hands and feet to ensure cleanliness and her back to make sure there is no visible hair growing from it; the woman submerges herself in a ceremonial pool as the attendant tells her that wives converting to Judaism always disrobe freely at the pool, even if they are not comfortable with nudity elsewhere (the attendant remarks that the woman seems very comfortable with nudity and the woman agrees). A woman is shown undressed when working with a male client.
 Two college students, a man and a woman, sit in a bubble bath (we see shoulders along with bare knees) and begin to argue about friends and whether she ever touches one of them sexually; we hear the woman get out of the tub off-screen and leave as we see part of a towel flip into camera range. A man is shown bare-chested in bed with his wife, who wears a nightgown. A few college-age women wear low-cut tops that reveal moderate cleavage.
 In sessions with a female sex therapist, we hear that a paralyzed man often ejaculates very quickly, once on the therapist's thigh (none of this is visible). A paralyzed man interviews a few subjects for a series of articles about the sex life of disabled individuals: One woman with twisted hands sits in a wheelchair and speaks of her partner licking her nipples; another subject is a man in a wheelchair that reports that his tongue is numb from smoking so much marijuana that he can perform oral sex for an extended amount of time without a problem. At a motel where a sex therapist takes her disabled client, a hotel clerk repeatedly asks the client's female attendant what the other two people are doing in the motel room; the attendant tells him that these are sex therapy sessions and mentions foreplay and simultaneous orgasm. A disabled man discusses sex and women several times with a priest who becomes frustrated with the conversations, but who finally decides that sex outside marriage is probably OK for the disabled man who has a short life expectancy. A female attendant sponge-bathes a paralyzed male and stares wide-eyed off screen toward his legs; we hear that the man often experiences an erection and ejaculates during bathing. After therapy sessions, a female sex surrogate voice records her notes about the mechanics of sex with a disabled man; she also records that he is developing fantasies of love toward her. A woman offers her house to a paralyzed man to use for his sex therapy sessions, because it will be "good karma." A disabled man meets a woman volunteer in a hospital and asks her to visit him at home often, because he "is not a virgin"; she laughs and agrees and we hear that they spend five years together as a couple (sex is implied). At a funeral, a priest says in his eulogy that the deceased man experienced physical as well as emotional love. After hiring a new female helper, a disabled man gets to know her and asks her to marry him, but she declines and quits the job.
 A disabled man consults several medical sex manuals and is surprised and dismayed by graphic charts and line drawings of male genitalia and the reproductive system.


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VIOLENCE/GORE 2 - A paralyzed man in an iron lung is alone in his house every night and once the electricity goes off and he cannot reach anyone on his mouth-dialed phone system in the dark and says, "So this is how it ends"; the camera cuts to a view of him being pushed quickly down halls in a hospital amid muffled sounds and then to the man lying in bed under an oxygen tent in a patient room with monitors attached to him by wires, and we hear that the man lives five more years, but that if he had been institutionalized as a child, his life expectancy would have been only 18 more months.
 A paralyzed man shouts in pain several times as attendants and a therapist change his clothing; his hands and feet become bent inside sleeves and pant legs and this hurts. A man propels himself on a motorized gurney around a college campus by using a mouth-operated lever; we hear that he caused too many accidents and had to hire attendants to help push him around on a gurney and put him in and out of an iron lung.
 Without his shirt, a paralyzed man's body reveals a badly curved spine and ribs sticking out significantly from his chest.
 We hear that a man, at the age of 38, has lived in an iron lung since age six, because of polio and has needed help with feeding, dressing and bathing; as an adult, he can move only his face and head and his body is curved and twisted with motionless arms and legs. We hear that a paralyzed man's sister died at age seven when he was six, but we do not hear the cause; he blames himself because his parents were attending to him more often than to her and his sex therapist records in her notes that the man probably wants to be punished for this and therefore thinks he does not deserve sex (please see the Sex/Nudity category for more details).
 A man and his wife argue loudly about her work as a therapist and the fact that he opened her mail and threw away a letter from one of her clients. A paralyzed man and a priest argue about whether fornication is always a sin (please see the Sex/Nudity category for more details). We hear a paralyzed man's inner thoughts, and he says that he often wishes revenge on his attendants. At the beginning of a therapy session, a disabled man shouts that he does not want to hurt his sex surrogate partner, since he knows nothing about sex; she tells him that shouting is not sexy and that she will be very careful that they do not hurt each other.
 We see a closed casket funeral for a man, with several friends in attendance, some of whom speak and read poetry while crying.


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LANGUAGE 5 - About 3 F-words, 27 sexual terms, 8 scatological terms (2 mild), 15 anatomical terms, 5 mild obscenities, name-calling (crazy, stupid, gimp), stereotypical references to the disabled, prostitutes, priests, poets, the Chinese, Whites, Germans, 10 religious exclamations.


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SUBSTANCE USE - A man says that his tongue is numb from years of smoking marijuana. A man and a woman drink wine at dinner, a priest takes a 6-pack of beer on a home visit and drinks a glass of beer, and a man and a woman at a motel office desk drink from bottles of beer. A priest lights a cigarette and smokes it as he leaves a parishioner's house.


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DISCUSSION TOPICS - Polio, sexual curiosity, the abilities of the disabled, sex therapists, sex surrogates, prostitution, family, relationships, love, regret, responsibility, the Christian church and questions of morality, different religions.

MESSAGE - Physically challenged individuals can almost lead full lives. Sex surrogates do not consider their vocations to be similar to prostitution.

CAVEATS

Be aware that while we do our best to avoid spoilers it is impossible to disguise all details and some may reveal crucial plot elements.

We've gone through several editorial changes since we started covering films in 1992 and older reviews are not as complete & accurate as recent ones; we plan to revisit and correct older reviews as resources and time permits.

Our ratings and reviews are based on the theatrically-released versions of films; on video there are often Unrated, Special, Director's Cut or Extended versions, (usually accurately labelled but sometimes mislabeled) released that contain additional content, which we did not review.


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