POET and journalist Mark O’Brien was paralysed from the neck down by childhood polio and left needing an iron lung to breathe. He could only survive for a few hours outside the machine with the aid of an air pipe.
John Hawkes plays him in this drama about fulfilling the desires of a man who spent his life in the horizontal position but was also a bit of a romantic. He decides to do something about it after the nurse who looks after him and wheels him around the city on a gurney rejects his declaration of love and marriage proposal.
Asked to write a magazine feature about sex and the disabled, he’s introduced to the world of sex surrogates. He begins a course of therapy with Cheryl (Helen Hunt) starting with body awareness and – hopefully – culminating in sexual intercourse.
He seeks advice on his search for sex from his local Catholic priest (William H Macy), who’s somewhat bemused by the request.
Although flat on his back with only his head showing from the iron lung or bed sheet for most of the film Hawks gives a finely detailed and sympathetic portrait of a man seeking his romantic ideal.
No Oscar nomination for him but a best supporting actress nod for Helen Hunt in a performance often described as “brave”, possibly because she spends much of the film totally naked as Cheryl goes about her sexual healing.