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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Monday, June 03, 2013

The Sessions

Overall, I enjoyed this film about Mark O'Brien (iron lung) deciding to go to a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt nudity alert), particularly because our sex laden culture too often does not actually seriously examine the complexity of the subject.  The DVD has a few background interviews, including from the leads, director/producer, supporting characters and the actual sex surrogate portrayed.  No commentary.  Interesting cameo: Rhea Perlman as the "Mikvah Lady" -- reminds me of another movie where we see the freeing nature of women baths in some Middle Eastern country. 

Some reviews thought it covered the subject matter too simplistically, including his Catholicism, but it is after all a movie. I probably would give it three plus stars out of four, the material not that deep, but overall smoothly done with points for novelty.  The usual plus of good support cast helps.  Didn't quite like how the sex surrogate got so emotionally attached -- she is a sex surrogate; why was this case special?  A quick look at the article the movie was based on and her own book (see link for resources) doesn't seem to suggest it happened quite like that. However, the film seems overall fairly faithful to real life, including certain small touches like the elevator scene.

O'Brien is portrayed as someone with guilty feelings about sex, in part a reflection from his brand of Catholicism, though he has a sense of humor and a complexity of thought that makes the character and man interesting (and subject to an earlier documentary). The priest he seeks counseling from is shown in a sympathetic light (how could he not given William H. Macy portrays him!) as a laid back sort of guy.  I take that -- as seen by his first reaction ("you mean fornication?") the Church would oppose this sort of thing. (O'Brien did later fall in love and have a more typical relationship with a woman though I take from the stuff I read that it was not quite like portrayed in the film.)   But, many would be like the priest.

The Church would not have lasted two thousand years, if the flock was as doctrinaire about things as the rules required. Sex for the Church is a limited thing -- in the area of marriage and even there without artificial contraception. Likewise, inability to have vaginal intercourse means you are not able to even get married.  So, if he was totally paralyzed and loved a woman, too bad for him?  It is not quite that the Church (though some early writers surely didn't think much of it) does not "like" sex as the sex surrogate suggests. They do have a narrow view of it.  Sad really.

As noted, the saving grace is that many (including some like the priest portrayed here) do not have such a limited view of things.  If one wishes to accept the New Testament (a sort of Judeo-Christian term in that only some would see it that way) as gospel, there is only so much wiggle room.* There is play in the joints. As noted in The Notorious Elizabeth Tuttle, many Puritans somewhat against type had some liberal (for the time) views about sex and marriage. The gospels were interpreted to allow divorce for abandonment and part of this would be abandoning certain responsibilities of a spouse, including those of a sexual nature.

And, this was not only taken in a sexist fashion.  The good of both was involved.  This follows the true spirit of the Catholic principle that sex is an important "unitive" aspect of marriage though why only a certain form of it would be possible here is something some of us find curious.  Some concern for the spirit over the letter and understanding that even holy text was written by human beings (even I reckon the Koran in its original Arabic) / fallible, can do a lot more to fit equality into religious doctrine.

For making us think through such issues, root for the characters and Helen Hunt's fairly consistent Boston accent, the film is worthwhile.


* See, e.g., here, where the text provides certain roles to husbands and to wives, even if there is no need to apply it in as sexist of a matter as is opposed in that discussion. The same is true with the few references to same sex behavior.  At some point, it can not be totally explained away. But, trying to justify every single verse, especially read in a vacuum, is a fool's errand.  When Paul (or "Paul") says things which make women ministers apparently a problem, this is pretty clear.  Selective reading helps -- recall something about splinters vs. planks ...

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