Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Movies: The Sessions and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Sessions is a little movie that came and went at the arthouse movie theaters without much notice.  It stars Helen Hunt, William H. Macy, and John Hawkes, all in standout roles.  It’s a shame this movie didn’t get more attention, but the subject-matter, and the direct, mature take on it, was probably a little uncomfortable for most people to consider.

The plot is pretty straight-forward: A 38-year-old man, Mark O’Brien (Hawkes), has lived most of his life in an iron lung, trapped there since the childhood onset of polio.  He's a writer and a poet.  His muscles don’t work, but his body is fully functional otherwise--He can leave the iron lung on a gurney for short periods of time, laying on his back.  An assignment to explore the use of sex surrogates sets him on a journey to confront his own sexuality, and the longing to love, to touch, and to be touched (not just in the physical way).

William H. Macy plays O’Brien’s priest, who offers human and spiritual guidance (as well as a healthy dose of comedic relief), and Helen Hunt plays the sex surrogate who ultimately directs O’Brien’s journey--to becoming fully human. Helen Hunt is perfect in this role; raw, vulnerable, and complicated.

Just like Field of Dreams was not really about baseball, this movie is not really about sex.  It's about that common theme which I always seem drawn to: The desire to communicate, to experience the human condition fully.  This is not an easy movie, but it shouldn’t be, should it?

Hawkes and Hunt are nominated for Oscars.  I really don’t think that they have much chance of winning, but I could be wrong.  Upsets happen.  But still, it’s better to be sitting in that room, and getting a little attention for this movie, than to not be there at all.  More people could benefit from experiencing this movie than not.  Highly recommended.

The Sessions reminded me of another of my favorite, uncomfortable, little movies that came and went, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  Honestly, I was a fan of this book, still am, as far as that goes, long before I saw the movie.  I loved the book because of the simplicity of it, the beauty of it, and the difficulty of it. I would want this book with me if I were stranded on a desert island.  It would be a great survival guide. I give this book away as often as I can.

The movie was different, but held up, and was just as important (at least to me) as The Sessions. The plot is simple, too.  The editor of the French version of Vogue, Jean-Dominique Bauby, is in a horrible car accident that leaves him paralyzed, and in a “locked-in state” -- he can't speak, can't move, can't do anything.  He can only communicate with the blink of his left eye--the right one is sewn shut.  With the help from an aid, they devise a way to write messages so he can communicate with the outside world.  One blink is an A, two a B, three a C, etc.  And in the end, what you have is a memoir, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, that was completely written with the blink of one eye, and with the help of a patient translator. The book was published three days before Bauby died.

Every writer who has ever whined about writer’s block should read this book, or see the movie.  That simple.  The desire to write, to communicate, HAS TO BE this strong.

Both of these movies were based on books, and on the lives of the authors.  Do yourself a favor and check them out, if you haven’t already.

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