In 2005, on Roger Ebert Day in Chicago, the renowned film critic said this about why movies are important: "If it's a great movie, it lets you understand a little bit more what it's like to be a different gender, a different race, a different age, a different economic class. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us. And that to me is the most noble thing that good movies can do — and it's a reason to encourage them and to support them and to go to them."
In theological language, what Roger is pointing at is that great movies are incarnational. They are 'word-made-flesh'. They are transcendent and imminent. They increase our faith in humanity, reveal our capacity for good and evil, and help us realize our own shortcomings and small victories. They enlarge our hearts, expand our minds, and send us forth dreaming, even hopeful, which is no small feat in this often-jaded world.
The Sessions is one such movie. I know I'm late in the game here: Helen Hunt was nominated for best actress; the Oscars are over. You've probably already seen it. But I want to comment on it in a way you may not have considered or just not found the words for. Because if you have seen it, you know the feeling I'm going to try and get at but with God-language.
This is a movie with sex in it that's not about sex, per se. It's about living in a body, the one that was created for us and only us. Each body is unique. Some remind us of why we love Rodin and Michaelangelo, some of us look in the mirror and struggle to love what we find there. Some of us are in great pain because of our bodies, like a boy named Nicky who has epidermolysis bullosa, a rare genetic skin disorder that causes extremely fragile skin, leading to numerous painful blisters all over the body. Some of us live in bodies that have been abused, by someone else, by ourselves, or both. Some of us live in bodies that get sick and don't obey our will, like Mark O'Brien, the main character in the film, and he wants to not just lose his virginity but to make love to a woman.
There's a lot of flesh in this movie, especially Helen Hunt's, but she is so brave and at home in her skin that what we see is not a naked woman or boobs or butt. We see a human being, in the body that was created for her. We see John Hawkes portraying a man whose body was permanently changed by polio but his spirit was not. There is no shame in this movie; there is no shame in watching this movie. Sex in the movies, even the most enlightened, passionate and love-filled, is usuallly portrayed with a sense of voyeurism, that we are seeing something we shouldn't but we are titillated nonetheless.
What we see here in The Sessions is the incarnation: two human beings encountering each other on all levels: spiritual, physical and emotional, with dignity, humor, and grace. And when they are making love, we witness a sacrament.
And the best miracle of all: we see a church that gives its blessing to the one we were graced with at our creation: humanity, in all its fragility and weakness and imperfection, is good.
If I could get away with it, I would show this in church. It is that holy.