Recently, we have seen a series of engaging movies portraying handicapped people without pity. These three deal with body image in the nearly unexplored territory of the disabled: “The Sessions”, “NoBody’s Perfect” and “The Intouchables”. All three are surprisingly gentle yet fearless journeys into the human needs of sexuality and respect.
“The Sessions”, nominated for multiple Academy Awards, reveals the often unacknowledged and ignored subject of human sexuality for the disabled. Based upon a true story, the severely handicapped Mark O’Brien (played by John Hawkes in another astonishing performance), is mostly confined to an iron lung (1980’s timeframe). O’Brien has endured life as a brilliant writer trapped in a body ravaged by polio. Helen Hunt pulls no punches as the caregiving sexual therapist/surrogate who develops a relationship with O’Brien that is genuine, honest, and tender. Through normal sexual experience, he begins to understand his body and his emotions, often through humor and grace. Even the Catholic priest (the rocking William H. Macy), O’Brien’s confidante and confessor, provides comic relief in this gem of a movie.
“NoBody’s Perfect”, an HBO documentary, has not received the same publicity and distribution as the other two films I review here, but it is a tour-de-force about the Thalidomide survivors of the 1960’s. Infants were born with deformed limbs or no limbs at all, due to heinous side effects produced by Thalidomide, a tranquillizer some pregnant women had taken for morning sickness. The drug company did not test the drug on pregnant women and did not accept responsibility for the damages to these families until this documentary was being made 50 years later. The film astonishes by the bold photography of these middle-aged men and women who model their naked bodies with pride and lack of self-consciousness. In a series of interviews about what they think of their bodies and the beauty they find in themselves, anyone who has had dysmorphic thoughts (i.e. negative views of their own bodies) will be in utter disbelief of the emboldened and heroic confidence of these men and women! They often feel whole and unbroken. A deeply personal film by a German Thalidomide survivor, I guarantee you will be absorbed by these extraordinary individuals.
“The Intouchables” is a charming, eccentric French film focusing on an adventurous, unpretentious aristocrat (Philippe) who happens to be a quadriplegic needing 24/7 care.
A fun-loving young rogue nicknamed Driss, who has a history of misdemeanors, becomes an unlikely caregiver for Philippe, after an unhappy succession of doltish ones. The second most successful French film of all time, this is a tear-eliciting, laugh-out-loud cinematic triumph. Based on a true story, this film–like the other two mentioned above–is more about how relationships can be powerful and life-affirming–than about dealing with disability. “The Intouchables” is so much fun to watch because of the joyous and free-spirited friendship between two goofy men from the far ends of the economic spectrum. Joyous and outlandish! Watch for the two real characters who appear in film clips at the end of the credits.
Who would have thought that three such different films could be sources for discovery as well as so entertaining!