Rare is an American film that deals frankly with sex. Not the portrayal of sex, one can find sex portrayals anywhere these days; I mean one that deals frankly with the subject of sex, and the role of sex in the life of an individual human being. I believe the US would be well served by an increased presence of nakedness and sex shown as a normal and good part of life. Sex is not to be taken lightly; it is important and should be treated as such. But it’s also wonderful and terrifying and natural and worth all the mumbling and bumbling that can accompany it. Sex is not ruining us, as some folks would have us believe. We have ruined sex, by making it simultaneously the ultimate object of pursuit and the greatest danger the world has ever seen.
The Sessions seems to understands sex in this way, and for that alone it’s worth the watch. The thing I most appreciate about The Sessions, and there are many because it is an excellent achievement, is the manner in which the adults in this film handle sex. The movie premises itself on that age-old after dinner acknowledgement: ‘we’re all adults here’, and it does not waste time worrying that you will balk at the importance of sex, be bashful in the presence of the naked human form, or squirm at the desire for everyone, even a man in an iron-lung, to know sex.
This is the starting point of The Sessions. It is funny and moving and frank in the characters it portrays. That a man who is paralyzed by polio wants to have sex, at least once, and should be encouraged by his priest to do so is a lovely thing. That a celibate Catholic Priest would enjoy the fascinating and sexy story of a paralyzed man’s encounter with a sex therapist is not creepy or dangerous but normal–it is after all a fascinating and sexy story. That our sexual behavior creates emotional attachments that will instigate pain and heartache and knowing this we do it anyway, this is just being human. The Sessions takes these things not as curios to be dissected for a circus show, nor as profound truths which hold the secrets to the universe. They are just a part of life and deserve thought and attention.
What makes The Sessions great is the decision to reject all the notions that make sex taboo or other or alien to the daily life of humans, and to look at sex as healthy and normal and awkward and most importantly: worth the effort.