Film: ‘The Sessions’: John Hawkes Contains Himself in Virgo Role and Scores Spirits Award Nom

Fox Searchlight

Most Virgos have a thing for containers. Lots of containers. Especially those that nest in each other. John Hawkes, a Virgo, spent most of his time shooting “The Sessions” in such receptacle. An iron lung. “I’m trapped in a big metal box,” says Hawkes’s character in the movie. And his physically confined performance – to say it was highly contained would not be off the mark – just got him a Best Male Lead Spirits Award nomination.

Hawkes portrays Mark O’Brien, a real-life quadriplegic journalist and poet who lived in Berkeley, Calif., and who describes his existence as a “finger’s width of the rope that ties me to life.” A devout Catholic, O’Brien, at 38, had not yet had a sexual experience, and sets about changing his intimacy status through a sexual surrogate, Cheryl Cohen Greene (Helen Hunt, who also received a Best Supporting Female Lead Spirits Award nomination).

There’s more to the astrological sign Virgo than virginity. The celibacy moniker is tied to the traditional self-containment of virgins. They didn’t seek many external trappings, because at an interior level they were pretty much good to go as is, without a partner. And a Virgo can’t be much more self-contained and solitary than when he’s inside a machine that’s doing the breathing for him.

For O’Brien, the harvest – Virgo is associated with gathering the fruits of one’s labors in the field – may have been limited. It’s a time of year when Persephone is about to pack it up and head to the underworld for the winter months, a leave-taking mythology to which O’Brien may have especially resonated. Hawkes, true to the perfection-seeking quality of Virgo, brings that rabid desire for self-improvement to the fore. He makes O’Brien’s success at fixing a missing piece of his life vibrant, convincing and life-affirming.

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