Heal Thy Son
Lorenzo’s Oil, based on a true story, is filmdom's most powerful movie about parental concern carried to the max. Susan Sarandon and Nick Nolte, portraying Michaela and Augusto Odone, deliver emotion-packed performances as parents desperately trying to find a cure for their ailing son, and I’m at a loss to explain why this superb drama failed to attract more of an audience when it was released in the early 1990s. Sarandon did receive a well-deserved Oscar nomination -- but lost out to Emma Thompson for Howard’s End. Sometimes there’s no justice in the world.
While doing research for my book, Susan Sarandon: A True Maverick, I had the opportunity to interview Augusto Odone about Sarandon’s work in the film. “She was able to seize the spirit of my late wife,” he said. “And there was a physical resemblance. She seemed to have the same ‘tiger mother’ instinct.”
Modeling her performance after the real Michaela Odone, Sarandon became a “tiger mother” on screen. Because the rare disease (adrenoleukodystrophy or ALD) Lorenzo suffers from is passed to sons by their mothers, Michaela can’t help harboring guilt feelings. Caring for her child (Zach O'Malley Greenburg) as he loses control of his bodily functions, this devoted mom sometimes behaves in an almost hateful manner as she ferociously protects her cub. Viewers need only look into Sarandon’s huge expressive eyes to see the depth of Michaela’s feelings.
Although doctors tell the Odones there’s no hope for their son, Augusto (Nolte) tries to find out all he can about the disease. He and Michaela do research of their own and come up with a blend of plant oils that seems to lessen the symptoms. But the Odones have to fight the medical establishment and even other parents of ALD boys to win acceptance of their discovery.
Lorenzo’s Oil is often excruciatingly painful to watch, but it’s also quite inspiring. I have immense admiration for Augusto and Michaela (who died of lung cancer in 2000). Facing ridicule, skepticism and criticism, they persevered in their quest to help halt a deadly disease. They co-founded The Myelin Project, an international group dedicated to accelerating research on myelin repair (a key factor in ALD). Augusto continues to take no salary for heading up the organization, and Sarandon now serves as spokesperson for this worthy project. Because I also wanted to do something to help, I've assigned my author royalties for the Sarandon book to The Myelin Project.
Lorenzo, who was five years old when his ALD surfaced, turned 26 in May of 2004. His mind is still active, and he uses his eyelids and fingers to communicate. He enjoys listening to music and being read to.
Directed and co-written (with Nick Enright) by George Miller (The Witches of Eastwick), a medical doctor himself, Lorenzo’s Oil shows the value of being proactive where diseases are concerned. But, perhaps even more important, it illustrates the enormous power of parental love.
(Released by Universal Pictures and rated “PG-13” for some language.)