Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Lorenzo's Oil. Feature film. (1992, 129 mins) IMDB
rilliant. Inspiring. An amazing story.
I watched the film for the first time tonight and I'm glad I did. I'm surprised I hadn't watched it before, but that's how it goes. I assumed, based on my limited knowledge of the film, that it would be a downer--parents struggling with a terminally ill child, but that's only part of the story. It's the story of their determination against great odds to help their boy and in doing so find medical solutions and help other boys.
We first meet Lorenzo Odone as a young boy playing and studying in the East African island-nation of Comoros. He's there with his parents because his father, Augusto, works for the World Bank. He's bright, playful, active--a typical boy.
When the family relocates to Washington, DC, the boy acts up in school. Throws tantrums. At first no one knows what to make of it, but after a series of tests at a children's hospital, the cause is discovered. He suffers from an inherited disease known as adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD). It's a death sentence. His body doesn't produce an enzyme that breaks down long-chain fatty acids. These cells build up in the blood and attack the brain. The person's brain slowly shuts down until the person dies. The doctor gives him two years at most to live. Case studies of other boys with the disease show death follows quickly.
The parents first seek out medical help. They visit specialists and try experimental treatment. None of it works. Time is ticking by.
They realize the scientists have their way of doing things and it isn't always in the interest of their son. Michaela takes charge of treating her son who quickly requires round-the-clock nursing. Augusto goes to the medical libraries to learn anything he can.
They are relentless in finding a cure, in getting researchers to do something and in getting the message out through the ALD foundation.
They battle the scientists who must take time to run studies, time to raise funding. They battle the scientists about using an oil that is shown to have negative effects on hearts in rats.
They battle the couple who run the foundation and who follow the line of the scientists. Odone's pseudo-science is rejected. It almost seems as if this couple, played as villains in the movie, didn't want a cure for a boy who is in a vegetative state. It was as if they were saying, it's better for everyone once he's gone. Lozenro's parents reject that notion by their actions. They never had to say it.
Augusto in his search for answers reads the studies and books and thinks about the issues and asks questions and thinks some more. He knows this bit of fact, but wonders why it doesn't work and eventually comes up with an answer. I found this sequence amazing.
Even more amazing is the fact they just don't give up. As their son's body decays (a built in ticking clock), they aren't put off by failures with the first oil treatment. They aren't put off with the impossibility of extracting a very specific chain of oil from another oil.
Even more amazing is the fact the oil worked on their son. He didn't die when the doctors said he would. Other boys took the oil at the first sign of trouble and stayed healthy.
As interesting aspect of this disease is that mother's carry the gene but don't develop the disease. Only boys do. That raises all sorts of questions.
The film is more about the story than any visuals, but what an amazing story. It says don't give up. Never give up.
(I can't believe the low IMDB rating of 6.9. Something is wrong there.)
Posted 2009/04/21 at 20h22ET in Movie Commentary.