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Film / Lorenzo's Oil

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Lorenzo's Oil is a 1992 American film directed by George Miller that shows the true story of Augusto and Michaela Odone (Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon) as they desperately try to find a cure for their son (Zach O'Malley-Greenberg)'s ALD as he struggles with the disease. In the film, as in the Odones' real story, non-expert, ordinary people find answers through simple research and logic, then struggle to have them accepted by eminent scientists who think these normal people couldn't possibly have figured anything out.

The movie also stars Peter Ustinov, Kathleen Wilhoite, Gerry Bamnan, Margo Martindale, James Rebhorn, and Ann Hearn.

It was released on December 30, 1992.

This article by Lorenzo's half sister Cristina describes the reality behind the film.

Tropes for the film:

  • And I Must Scream: Lorenzo himself is one of the more famous Real Life examples. (The real Lorenzo communicated by moving his fingers and blinking his eyes.)
  • The Big Board: Augusto has a whiteboard charting Lorenzo's blood fat levels by month. He repeatedly draws a kitchen sink with two faucets to illustrate and then update his understanding of how the fat level balances are supposed to work.
    Micaela: I married a plumber.
    Augusto: You married a man with a simple mind, who asks simple questions.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The film ends with the title character's parents' efforts directly leading to a successful treatment for their son's terminal disease. However, while the movie ends with a montage of all the little boys who now can have full lives (instead of being trapped in their bodies and dead by age 8), Lorenzo himself and many of the other boys in the movie are too far gone for the treatment to fix the damage (Lorenzo Odone did, however, live far longer than doctors expected - he survived until 2008).
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Augusto is seen smoking more of these as the story continues.
  • Dramatization: The film is based on the story of Augusto Odone, someone with no medical background who through self-study helped discover a treatment for adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a rare disease his son Lorenzo had contracted.
  • Dreaming the Truth: The titular oil was partly inspired by a dream of Augusto Odone, as his son was saved by the formula he worked out. By this time, he's moved from the kitchen sink to chains of paper clips; his dream reveals that the same enzyme is responsible for continuing and halting the process, and that erucic acid is the answer. (Now, all he has to do is convince research scientists that erucic acid isn't toxic.)
  • Find the Cure!: The Odones search desperately for a cure, or at least treatment, for their son's ALD (adrenoleukodystrophy). Sponsoring an international symposium of scientists, they follow a thin lead to an oil with two specific long-chain fatty acids. This reduces the problem that's causing the disease, but then they learn a case as advanced as their son's also requires replacing or regenerating the nerve myelin sheaths. So they start working on that. Meanwhile, the oil is used on many patients to arrest the progress of their ALD, preventing the damage that harmed the Odones' boy.
  • Gratuitous Italian: Nick Nolte as Augusto says many things in Italian in the film. Nolte studied Augusto carefully to make sure he really sounded as well as looked and behaved like him, so that viewers know he did this in Real Life.note  Augusto was from Gamalero and probably spoke Piedmontese, but it's reasonable to assume he also spoke classic Florentine Tuscan as he does in the film. There's a point about midway through where he fires off a lengthy (subtitled) rant to Micaela.
  • Heroic BSoD: Augusto goes through a splendid one when researching Lorenzo's condition and finding out about all the terrible things that happen to those who are afflicted with it.
  • Humble Hero: Don Suddaby (played by the real Don Suddaby!) is the chemist who dares to make the oil that was deemed too difficult, and succeeds. When Michaela calls him to inform him about their plans, she graciously thank him for making it possible, to which Suddaby says to think nothing of it. The oil would prove to be successful and go on to save countless lives.
  • Muggles Do It Better: The Odones don't have scientific backgrounds, their education has all been in other fields. Augusto decides they should come at ALS the way they did when his job sent him to a country he knew nothing about, just study it in detail and learn all about it. With intensive research of scientific papers in libraries, and helped by a sympathetic doctor, they discovered the answer that specialists had not.
  • Shown Their Work: Augusto made an astounding piece of biochemistry research paper explaining the process, to show any potential chemist that the Odones are serious in their research. Don Suddaby can't help but praise it and most likely inspires him to try to make the oil, which he does.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: This film has plenty of it.
    • Augusto and Michaela show the consequences of focusing all their attention on saving their son's life to an unhealthy level. It is a miracle they even managed to live throughout the film.
    • Augusto and Michaela get very little support from those studying ALD, mainly due to them just being two non-scientist parents (Augusto was an economist and worked for the World Bank). It is understandable for any professional not to take the findings of two parents serious when they have only just started researching. Even when the Odones find a lead to a cure, it was next to impossible to find any help, since the product they are asking to be made is extremely risky to make for human consumption, legal troubles could not begin to describe if it should fail. They only got help from one company when the owner asked for complete legal coverage should anything go wrong.
    • When they potentially found a way to stop the disease from growing with a mixture of oil that was painstakingly made, the FDA still have to research it to make sure it safe for everyone who needs it, even if two kids are showing positive reactions to it. So everyone else still has to wait.
    • Augusto and Michaela have to face the reality of Lorenzo's condition. Just because they managed to stop his ALD from taking his life, Lorenzo will still suffer various hardships in his life because of finding the cure so late into his disease, and the oil itself will only show slow recovery process. Augusto and Michaela can only take solace in the fact that they at least saved countless of parents from going through what they suffered through.
  • True Companions: Wendy Gimble is a farmer who stuck with the Odone family throughout the film. They became acquaintances through common grounds, as her son and Lorenzo both have ALD (Wendy's older son died of it just after they met), and Wendy would regularly bring fresh vegetables to them and visited them in their time of need, overall being a good friend. This kindness did not go in vain, because as soon as the experimental oil proved effective with Lorenzo, they gave Wendy the oil for her son Jake, due to his ALD worsening at the time. The oil is expensive, mind you, and Wendy tried to pay them as much as she could, but the Odones graciously accepted her produce in return instead. Jake's condition stabilized soon after and Wendy went to go to the ALD meeting to confirm the Odones' efforts.
    • It is also worth mentioning that Michaela Odone, who at her worst, became paranoid due to the stress of taking care of her ill son, and she took out her frustrations on everyone, especially her husband. With Wendy, however, she was nothing but nice to her and Jake. It's likely because they're both mothers who are in extremely difficult positions for their loved ones and they need each other's support above all else.