THE SESSIONS: Made in the Image of God


To love and be loved, physically and emotionally, is to be both fully human and in the image of God

The Oscar contender, THE SESSIONS, starring Helen Hunt (Cheryl Cohen Greene), John Hawkes (Mark O'Brien) and William H. Macy (Father Brendan) deals head on with human sexuality and disability in all their complexities. The movie tells the story of Mark O'Brien, a 38-year-old Catholic virgin who has spent most of his life in an iron lung as a consequence of contracting polio as a child. His paralysis from the neck down leaves him reliant on others to take care of literally all of his physical needs. No longer able to ignore his sexuality, which up to this point has been more of a source of shame and humiliation than pleasure, and fearing he's getting close to his "use by" date, O'Brien seeks the approval of his priest to see a sex surrogate. The goal of the sessions with the surrogate partner is to achieve full penis-in-vagina penetration, aka loose his virginity and become a self-made man.
One of the many themes woven through this film is that we are all made in the image of God. In the first church scene O'Brien, laying on his gurney, head cocked to one side, wrists and hands contracted, says, "I believe in God. A God with a wicked sense of humor, one who made me in his own image." 
Later on, in a scene where Cheryl Cohen Greene, the sex surrogate played by Hunt, is entering the Mikvah (a Jewish ritual bath, in this case used in Cohen Greene's conversion process to Judaism), the Mikvah attendant, played by Rhea Perlman, comments on Cohen Greene's comfort being completely naked and the nervousness and discomfort she hears on a regular basis from young Jewish brides. As Cohen Greene is dunking, the Mikvah Lady finishes her brief but poignant monologue with the line, "This is your body. This is the body God crafted for you." Finally, in Cohen Greene's last session with O'Brien, she holds up a full-length mirror to his somewhat distorted body (as a result of polio) and says, "Mark, this is your body;" in this context, a positive statement affirming his sexuality.
The concept of humanity being made in the image of God, 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 Godliness. 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, or “Ein Sof,” and hence we all yearn for connection.
In the beginning… when God created the first human being, God said it is not good to be alone. To love and to be loved, emotionally, spiritually and physically, as was the experience of Mark O'Brien portrayed in THE SESSIONS, is to be both fully human and in the image of God.

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