I kind of don’t want to tell you the title of this movie or who is in it, because you might have some opinions on whether or not such media is appropriate. And I’ve dawdled around this topic in my mind, trying to decide if I’ll write it or not. Usually, if I’m not sure I should write it, then I should.
Movie: The Sessions. Actor: Helen Hunt.
In the movie, Mark O’Brien is a reporter for the Pacific News Service, a poet, and a victim of polio since age six. He’s in an iron lung for hours each day, his body is rigid and immobile, but his mind is sharp, his emotions are real, and he is a man in every way.
He wants love. Actually, he wants to make love. He seeks a blessing from his priest to proceed with this controversial approach, and then he works with a sex surrogate to consummate the journey of his sexuality as a person with disabilities.
The movie is absolutely brilliant. The film approaches sex from an unlikely vantage point, from a helpless person who cannot do for himself, as well as a professional therapist pursuing the course of helping and healing.
The story is respectful and honest, not pornographic or exploitive, but the movie is graphic. We’re invited to watch as a man chooses humility and courage to learn what he would not otherwise experience. And let’s be honest. It’s straight up a movie about sex.
I’m not writing to declare any stance on media, religion, alternative therapy, advocacy, or sexuality. I’m not writing to discuss all that I learned from the film, although I’m pretty sure I could write a sizeable thesis. I didn’t even set out to write a movie review, although I guess it turns out that’s what I’m doing.
I’m writing about the way we see ourselves.
Helen Hunt’s character, Cheryl Cohen-Greene, is a typical soccer mom with a home and mortgage, a son and a husband. When she first takes the screen, she’s coming inside from doing yardwork, and she’s dressed in jeans in a t-shirt. I imagine she’s also wearing cute, worn flip flops, though we don’t see her feet in that scene. She looks lovely, honest, believable… and skeletal. I recall that as the word that immediately came to mind: Skeletal. Her clothes hang loosely on her frame, her angles are sharp, her eyes are sunken, and her lips are thin.
I mean this with all due respect to beautiful you, Helen Hunt. You are lovely and wise, witty and demure, and I have loved you since your days as the ever charming Jamie Buchman. And I’m sure you didn’t begin filming until you were good and ready to bare your entire soul and self on screen. Given the assignment, I would aim for skeletal as well.
As Cheryl begins her sessions with Mark, as Helen takes off her clothes to varying degrees until we can see everything she has, I found that this actress is quite remarkably perfect in her skin. No extra bumps, folds, or lines. No imperfections. Truly, remarkably perfect.
In fact, I have concluded that she is most beautiful without her clothes on, and this perception has affected me profoundly.
In my mind, I have formed a basic cause and effect argument. She looks skeletal in her clothing so that she may look perfect in her full exposure. The converse is also true: in order to look flawless in the bedroom scenes, she is skin over bones throughout the rest of the movie.
Right now, I am wordless to explain what this means for me. I guess it’s sort of a wordless discovery. I keep writing sentences and deleting them, looking for coherency.
I guess it’s something of a trade-off. Sure, she looked good naked, but otherwise she looked emaciated and hungry.
Sure, I may or may not have some parts I’d rather keep hidden forevermore. (Who are we kidding? Totally do.) Still, I feel like I can put together a pretty, curvy, feminine outfit, given cute jeans, a t-shirt, and beloved, worn flip flops. Since that’s how most of the world will ever see me for all of their days, I think I’d prefer for ‘clothed’ to be my better look.
You’d think seeing her naked would have made me feel worse about myself, but no. I feel better, actually.
Her figure is as unattainably perfect as a forever immaculate home. Just not worth the effort and constant scrutiny. I am free to put my feet on the coffee table, wear my shoes in the house, stack dishes in the sink, and smile at myself in the mirror – regardless of whether I’ve just stepped out of the shower or I’m ready to walk out the door.
Freedom. Sweet freedom. With clothes on.