Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||George Miller|
|Produced by||Doug Mitchell|
|Written by||George Miller|
|Edited by||Richard Francis-Bruce|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$7.2 million|
Lorenzo's Oil is a 1992 American drama film co-written and directed by George Miller. It is based on the true story of Augusto and Michaela Odone, two parents in a relentless search for a cure for their son Lorenzo's adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD). It was filmed primarily from September 1991 to February 1992 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The film had a limited release in North America on December 30, 1992, with a nationwide release two weeks later on January 15, 1993. It was generally well received by the critics and received two nominations at the 65th Academy Awards, but was a box office bomb, grossing only $7.2 million against its $30 million budget.
Lorenzo is a bright and vibrant young boy living in the Comoro Islands, as his father Augusto works for the World Bank and is stationed there. However, when his parents relocate back to the United States, he begins to show signs of neurological problems (such as falling, loss of hearing, tantrums, etc.). The boy is diagnosed as having adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), which is fatal within two years. Failing to find a doctor capable of treating their son's rare disease Augusto and his wife, Michaela, set out on a mission to find a treatment to save their son. In their quest, the Odones clash with doctors, scientists and a support group that is skeptical that anything could be done about ALD, much less by laypeople. But they persist, setting up camp in medical libraries, reviewing animal experiments, enlisting the aid of Professor Gus Nikolais, badgering researchers, questioning top doctors all over the world and even organizing an international symposium about the disease.
Despite research dead-ends, the horror of watching their son's health decline and being surrounded by skeptics (including the coordinators of the support group they attend), they persist until they finally hit upon a possible therapy. The Odones sponsor an international meeting of scientists doing research on ALD, requiring two conditions ahead of time. First they insist that the meeting focus on potential treatments and second, they require that they be allowed to participate, despite being non-scientist laypeople. The pivotal scene in the movie portrays this meeting, in which the scientists are presenting their research. When Dr. William B. Rizzo mentions his studies in which the addition of oleic acid to cultured cells blocked accumulation of the factors which cause ALD, the Odones jump into the conversation, asking if this oil might help their son. Although the scientists play down their hope, pointing out that it would take years of work to produce the oil and test in clinical trials, the Odones seize the promise of this possible curative treatment. As the scene ends, Michaela Odone is shown beginning the effort to find someone able and willing to produce the same oil Dr. Rizzo gave to his cells. They contact over 100 firms around the world until they find an elderly British chemist, Don Suddaby, who is working for Croda International and is willing to take on the challenge of distilling the proper formula.
The Odones obtain a precious vial of the oil (actually containing two specific long chain fatty acids, isolated from rapeseed oil and olive oil) and add it to their son's diet. This treatment proves successful in normalizing the accumulation of the very long chain fatty acids (which had been causing their son's steady decline), as measured in blood levels. This treatment halts the progression of his disease and is dubbed "Lorenzo's Oil". This oil is soon found to be successful in preventing the progression of harm in other patients with ALD. Meanwhile, however, Lorenzo has a great deal of neurological damage, and the Odones are dismayed to see that the oil can reverse their son's symptoms only very, very slowly. The Odones realize that more rapid improvement of his son's severe condition will require treatments to repair the myelin sheath (a lipid insulator) around the nerves, and Augusto is shown taking on the new challenge of organizing biomedical efforts to heal myelin damage in patients.
Finally, Lorenzo, at the age of 14, shows definite improvement (swallowing for himself and answering "yes" or "no" questions by blinking) and it is revealed that he has regained his sight, can move his head from side to side, vocalize simple sounds and is learning to use a computer. The movie ends with scenes of ALD patients who were treated with Lorenzo's Oil earlier in the course of their disease. In these patients the devastating neurological problems from which Lorenzo suffered were able to be prevented.
Possibly to emphasize the "Everyman" aspect of the plot (the notion that a cure could affect families and individuals anywhere), many smaller roles were played by inexperienced actors or non-actors with unusual physical features and mannerisms. For example, the poet James Merrill was noticed by a casting director at a New York public reading of his poetry. His rarefied speaking cadences were utilized in a symposium scene in which he played a questioning doctor.
The opening song is "Kijana Mwana Mwali" ("Song about a Young Lady"), sung by the Gonda Traditional Entertainers.
The music for the Easter Midnight Mass scene is a Russian Orthodox Church hymn, "Bogoroditse Devo" (Rejoice, O Virgin) from "Three Choruses from 'Tsar Feodor Ioannovich'", taken from the album Sacred Songs of Russia by Gloriae Dei Cantores.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times gave the film four out of four stars and called it an "immensely moving and challenging movie". He added, "it was impossible not to get swept up in it" and James Berardinelli of ReelViews gave it three out of four stars and claimed, "it was about the war for knowledge and the victory of hope through perseverance."Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively collected reviews from 39 critics to give the film a score of 92%, with an average rating of 7.07/10, as of September 2020 .
Though the film seemed to accurately portray the events related to the boy's condition and his parents' efforts during the time period covered by the film, it was criticized for painting a picture of a miracle cure. Subsequent research with Lorenzo's oil has not clearly proven its long-term effectiveness in treating ALD after its onset. The actual subject of the film, Lorenzo Odone, died of pneumonia in May 2008 at the age of 30, having lived two decades longer than originally predicted by doctors.
Lorenzo's Oil was nominated twice at the 65th Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Susan Sarandon) and Best Original Screenplay (George Miller & Nick Enright).
Susan Sarandon was nominated for Best Actress in a Drama at the 50th Golden Globe Awards.
The film was nominated for Best Original Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen at the WGA Awards.
Also, the film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists: