The Sessions, a new movie starring Helen Hunt, John Hawkes and William H. Macy, deals head on with human sexuality and disability.
The movie tells the story of Mark O’Brien, a 38-year-old Catholic who has polio and is forced to spend most of his life in an iron lung. For most of his life he’s had to depend on the care of others for all of his physical needs.
As the film plays out, it becomes clear that O’Brien, played by John Hawkes, is no longer able to ignore his sexuality. Sex has always been a source of shame and humiliation for O’Brien, but now he fears he’s getting close to his “use by” date.
So O’Brien does what any good Catholic might do and seeks the approval of his priest, played delightfully by the always wonderful William H. Macy. O’Brien’s goal is to finally loose his virginity and become a self-made man.
One of the many themes woven through “The Sessions” is the belief that we are all made in the image of G-d. While meeting with his priest, O’Brien hammers home the point while laying on a gurney.
“I believe in G-d,” he says, “a G-d with a wicked sense of humor; one who made me in his own image.”
O’Brien eventually hooks up with a sex surrogate, Cheryl Cohen Green, and the theme is revisited when Cohen Green, played by Helen Hunt, visits a mikvah as part of a conversion process she’s going through.
The attendant at the mikvah, Rhea Perlman, comments that Cohen Greene seems comfortable with her nakedness. She finds it refreshing and in stark contrast to the discomfort she often sees when helping out young Jewish brides at the mikvah.
As Cohen Greene immerses herself in the spiritual waters of the mikvah, the attendant finishes up a brief, but poignant monologue with the line, “This is your body. This is the body G-d crafted for you.”
Later, when the sex surrogate is meeting with O’Brien, she holds up a full-length mirror, offering a clear and positive statement affirming his sexuality when she says, “Mark, this is your body.”
The concept of humanity being made in the image of G-d, or in biblical Hebrew, “b’tzelem elohim,” is profound. From a religious perspective it reaches far beyond the issue of individual body image to a moral imperative.
If we accept this theology, which is fundamental to both Jewish and Christian doctrine, then we have to accept that we all have intrinsic value because we all reflect a glimmer of G-dliness. For this reason alone, we are all worthy of love, regardless of our physical form or abilities. From a Kabbalistic perspective we all come from the same infinite source, Ein Sof, and hence we all yearn for connection.
In the beginning, when G-d created the first human, G-d made it clear that it’s not good to be along. To love and to be loved — emotionally, spiritually, physically — is to be fully human, a reflection of the image of God. That’s what Mark O’Brien was seeking and, ultimately, discovered in “The Sessions”.
BY MITCHELL TEPPER / FOR THE ATLANTA JEWISH TIMES