The Sessions

 
Mature but deeply powerful look at sex and the disabled.
  • Review Date: October 16, 2012
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2012
  • Running Time: 95 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The film is compassionate and sensitive to the triumphs and challenges that the disabled community faces. Without condescending, it reminds audiences that everyone has needs and desires that deserve acknowledgement and fulfillment.

Positive role models

Mark O'Brien, a real-life poet and journalist who survived only with the help of an iron lung, is the inspiration for this film, and he's depicted here as a graceful, thoughtful man with much to offer the world. His surrogate soothes his concerns and treats their relationship like any other that requires trust and communication. She also tries to understand what it's like for him to be tied to the iron lung. To her, he's not just a case, nor is he an outsider. She treats him with respect.

Violence
Not applicable
Sex

A woman's private parts are briefly visible, and her breasts are shown. Her backside is seen often, and there are glimpses of pubic hair. The two main characters are shown attempting to have sex, mostly from the waist up,  while discussing what they're doing and how it feels. Frank sex talk throughout, including references to orgasm.

Language

One use of "f--k," plus "s--t," "d--k," "crap," "ass," "damn," "oh my God," and more.

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Sessions' story about a man in an iron lung who decides to explore his sexuality with the help of a professional "sex surrogate" isn't appropriate for younger teens. But for mature older teens and adults, it's a film filled with compassion and hope that could provide a lesson about what sex and love mean and what they can bring to anyone's life when approached in a healthy manner. Expect plenty of nudity (including brief glimpses of a woman's private parts and breasts, as well as longer shots of her backside) and frank conversations about sex acts, orgasm, and more. Language is infrequent but includes "f--k" and "s--t."

What's the story?

At age 38, poet and journalist Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes), who survives only by being tethered to an iron lung, has never been in love. Nor has he had sex. A devout Catholic, Mark is reminded of how lonely his existence can be when he grows enamored of an assistant who can't reciprocate his feelings. When an editor assigns him a story about sex and disability, Mark decides that it's time to explore his own sexuality, too. He consults with his priest (William H. Macy), who supports him, and hires a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt), who teaches Mark about his body and with whom he develops an important friendship.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

How can a movie full of sex not just be about sex? THE SESSIONS is transcendent, laying bare (no pun intended) the emotional and sexual needs of the disabled in a way that's universal. Mark isn't simply looking for release; he's searching for a deep and abiding connection beyond his faith. The movie follows his exploration elegantly and without judgment -- and, in so doing, elicits empathy. We aren't just watching a good, kind man attempt to have sex; we're seeing a human being try to make sense of connection and love and of the difficult card life has handed him.

Hawkes deserves nothing but praise -- and heaps of awards -- for his rich, nuanced performance. He's so believable that we forget that he's not actually reliant on an iron lung in real life; his scenes with Hunt, who's also great here (though her Boston accent is grating), feel so private, so personal, that we feel both privileged and a little intrusive watching them. Macy's addition as Mark's priest allows viewers a peek into Mark's mind without bogging down the movie. And how wonderful it is to see a pious man not painted as a sinner for discussing his urges and needs. The Sessions is a powerful, emotional lesson in grace and compassion.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how The Sessions presents sex. What messages is it sending about sex as a part of life? As a part of a relationship? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values on these topics.

  • Had you ever heard of a sex surrogate before? Why do you think someone might choose this profession?

  • The Sessions also examines a man's relationship with God. How is it depicted here? How does it compare to how Hollywood has handled the subjects of faith and God in other movies?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:October 19, 2012
DVD release date:February 12, 2013
Cast:Helen Hunt, John Hawkes, William H. Macy
Director:Ben Lewin
Studio:Fox Searchlight
Genre:Drama
Topics:Friendship
Run time:95 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:strong sexuality including graphic nudity and frank dialogue

This review of The Sessions was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

Quality

Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Written byAnonymous April 28, 2013
age 18+
 

More for me too see. Less for kids too see. All Sex is like Skinemax all in this movie. No One Under 18 Shouldn't see this unless your putting them to Explicit Sexual Content.

It's all about the Disabled and the Sex. This is why there is Female Nudity and sex scenes is almost skinemax. More like X Rated then R because of the huge amount of sex in it. So not for anyone under 18. Not for kids ether. What? I can't believe how much Female Nudity is in this. Cinemax needs to put this in the 10PM- 6AM Safe Harbor. It's more like an Adult Film for 18+ People to see only. Nothing is Positive in this film. No Sex Film is. ...and this is a sex film for 18+ NC-17 &/ or X. Not R
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Kid, 10 years old May 4, 2014
age 18+
 

to much female nudity!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

WAY TO SEXUAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking

Poll

Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Digital Compass