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The Sessions

4.4 out of 5 stars 901 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Based on the poignantly optimistic autobiographical writings of California-based journalist and poet Mark O'Brien, THE SESSIONS tells the story of a man confined to an iron lung who is determined - at age 38 - to lose his virginity. With the help of his therapists and the guidance of his priest, he sets out to make his dream a reality.


It almost seems like a miracle when a director manages to make a dynamic movie about a character with limited mobility, but The Sessions joins the ranks of successful efforts like The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. In adapting the remembrances of Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes, Winter's Bone), who spent most of his life in an iron lung, Australian filmmaker and fellow polio survivor Ben Lewin recounts his alternately sad and funny attempts to lose his virginity (O'Brien previously appeared as himself in Jessica Yu's documentary Breathing Lessons). By 1988, the 36-year-old Berkeley writer had forged friendships with women, but romantic relationships eluded him. In discussing the matter with his therapist, she suggests Cheryl Cohen Greene (Helen Hunt), a wife, mother, and sexual surrogate. It's a viable solution, but as a devout Catholic, Mark is uncomfortable with the idea of extramarital relations, so he shares his concerns with an open-minded priest (William H. Macy). With an absence of pity and an abundance of wit, Lewin documents Mark's journey though this physical, emotional, and spiritual minefield, which takes a toll on Cheryl as well, since her husband (Adam Arkin) resents the closeness she develops with her client (though plausible, this subplot feels forced). If Hunt received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her performance, which involves a fair amount of nudity, the Academy failed to recognize Hawkes, a regrettable omission as this fine actor succeeds in creating a fully rounded human being whose desire for affection feels as universal as it does specific. --Kathleen C. Fennessy

Product Details

  • Actors: John Hawkes, William H. Macy, Helen Hunt, Moon Bloodgood, Annika Marks
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround), Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
  • Dubbed: French, Spanish
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
  • Studio: Fox Searchlight
  • DVD Release Date: February 12, 2013
  • Run Time: 95 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (901 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #15,085 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By K. Harris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on December 8, 2012
Format: DVD
After making a splash at this year's Sundance film festival, the provocatively themed "The Sessions" has created a fair amount of buzz both for its subject matter and for its performances. Based on the true story of Mark O'Brien, the movie tackles a topic that might make some uncomfortable--sex, specifically sex and the disabled. In an era where any amount of violence and gore is perfectly acceptable, I still don't understand why it is verboten for American movies to deal with sexual issues in a frank and adult manner. So I appreciate that writer/director Ben Lewin made "The Sessions" with a matter-of-fact boldness uncommon in today's movies. The movie is frank, explicit, and both emotionally and physically revealing. Instead of feeling unnecessarily prurient, however, the movie is surprisingly life affirming. It is sensitive about its topic, but also quite humorous. I was afraid the film might be a little too clinical, depressing or dispassionate but it is, instead, eminently relatable and entertaining.

O'Brien, a paralyzed man who spent his nights in an iron lung, has tried to live the best life that he can. He's a professional writer, and has attempted to get as much normalcy out of his days as possible. At 36, though, he is thinking more and more about relationships, love, and sex. He wants to experience human intimacy in all of its forms. After exposing himself emotionally, he decides to seek out a more straightforward answer to losing his virginity. With the advice of his priest (William Macy) and the assistance of his aide (Moon Bloodgood), he contacts a sex surrogate to assist. The remainder of the movie details these sessions in much explicitness. They have surprising candor, insight and impact.
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Format: DVD
The Sessions is an extraordinary little indie film based on an even more extraordinary true story. In 1988, Mark O'Brien, a thirty-eight year old poet, journalist and advocate for the disabled living in Berkeley, California, decided to lose his virginity. This may not sound very extraordinary unless you know that O'Brien, severely afflicted by polio as a child, had spent most of his life in an iron lung and was unable to move any part of his body below the neck.

O'Brien's decision was prompted as a result of research he was doing for an article on the sex lives of disabled people. After interviewing a number of disabled people, and seeing how many of them were in fact enjoying an active and rewarding sex life in spite of their disabilities, O'Brien began to consider his own sex life, or rather, his complete lack of one, and how he might go about changing that. The issue was further complicated for O'Brien by the fact that he was a devout Catholic and what he was contemplating - sex outside of marriage - was a moral issue as well as a physical one. So in addition to consulting a sex therapist for help with his physical challenges, he also consulted with his local priest for what was for him a moral challenge as well.

It is important to understand the exact nature of O'Brien's situation. He was not paralyzed, at least not neurologically. Polio afflicts the muscles, leaving them weak and atrophied, but not the nerves, and so although he couldn't move, O'Brien could still feel and his 'equipment' still worked, albeit in moments that were more embarrassing than anything that could be considered pleasurable, given that the only people ever touching him or seeing him naked were doctors, nurses and attendants.
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Format: DVD
How do you lose your virginity if you have been confined to an iron lung most of your life? A couple of years ago, I had some lively discussions on this topic with one of my JayFlix friends, a health-care professional who was attending a young quadriplegic. Now this film-festival favorite addresses the question, only this man isn't paralyzed with no physical sensations, instead he is a polio survivor confined to an iron lung since childhood. Furthermore, he is a witty, well-educated and frustrated adult.

Based on the real-life story of Mark O'Brien (1949-1999), a Berkeley poet and journalist, he was the first severely disabled student to graduate from college, earning a bachelor's degree in 1982, and acceptance to a post graduate program. His inspiring story has been told once before in a documentary film, "Breathing Lessons," directed by Jessica Yu. It won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short in 1997. This version is written and directed by the acclaimed Ben Lewin, himself a polio survivor who requires crutches.

We watch:
* John Hawkes ("Contagion") is brilliant as Mark O'Brien, who wryly tells his priest he wants to experience sex before his "Use-By date" expires. Hawkes is an amazing chameleon who transforms himself from film to film, each time I am stunned to discover who I have just watched. There is some well-deserved Oscar buzz about this film.
* Helen Hunt ("As Good as it Gets") is Cheryl Cohen Greene, a professional therapist hired to provide basic instruction in human sexuality. Her therapy is bluntly anatomical and unembarrassed while at the same time, extremely sensitive and insightful. His responses are usually humorous and disarming. Hunt is fearless but convincing, and is beautifully naked a lot of the time.
* William H.
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