Watch: 'Breathing Lessons,' the Short Documentary That Helped Inspire 'The Sessions'

Watch: 'Breathing Lessons,' the Short Documentary That Helped Inspire 'The Sessions'

Oct 22, 2012

The Sessions, now out in limited release, is Ben Lewin's terrific and inspiring film about the real-life struggles of poet and journalist Mark O'Brien (John Hawkes), who spent most of his life inside of an iron lung, unable to move any of his body parts from the neck down due to post-polio syndrome. Nearing 40, Mark decided he wanted to lose his virginity and write an article about it, so once the funding came in he sought out the expertise of a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) to help guide him through the experience of having sex for the first time. What follows (in the film) is this unbelievably touching journey about sex, love and intimacy with a fantastic, Oscar-worthy performance from John Hawkes, who takes us on a character's emotional adventure with only his face and his breathing.
 
I know... his breathing? It sounds weird to admire an actor for the work he did breathing on film, but trust me when I say it's crucial to the story and to the experiences of Mark O'Brien. Fox Searchlight devoured the film soon after it premiered at Sundance, and even back then people were starting to buzz about The Sessions' (then titled The Surrogate) chances come Oscar time. Audiences are finding themselves incredibly moved by this story, and it'll surely be in the hunt for a number of nominations later this year.
 
Following the screening at Sundance, writer-director Ben Lewin and his cast took to the stage to discuss making the film, highlighting Jessica Yu's Oscar-winning short documentary Breathing Lessons (1996), which examines O'Brien's life, as one of the pieces that inspired the narrative feature. It was also what Hawkes studied as he prepared for the role. 
 
Those interested in reading more of O'Brien's story can read his article "On Seeing a Sex Surrogate," which was another major inspiration for the film.
 
 
Note: Parts of this post were originally published on January 24, 2012

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