Lorenzo's Oil

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgas..., Common Sense Media
Lorenzo's Oil Movie Poster Image
Intense film about a boy's fatal illness has heavy themes.
  • PG-13
  • 1992
  • 136 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The experts do not always have the answers. Sometimes ordinary people must try to find answers themselves. Sometimes all the hard work you do helps others more than it helps you. Themes include compassion, courage, empathy, and perseverance.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Augusto and Michaela Odone are parents fighting fiercely to save their 6-year-old son, diagnosed with a rare, untreatable terminal disease. Their dedication and refusal to accept defeat is inspiring. At times, the mother is abrupt and even abusive when people don't behave as well as she'd like. It seems reasonable that some doctors don't want to damage their reputations by treating desperate patients with potentially harmful experimental treatments, but at least one health care professional is portrayed here as insensitive and unwilling to stray from strict protocols. Some parents have conflicts about seeking treatments that might prolong the lives of their suffering children.

Violence

At the onset of his illness, a boy suffers uncontrollable temper tantrums and starts falling. We see a doctor putting stitches in his forehead after a tumble from his bike. He bleeds from his mouth after another fall. The boy is seen deteriorating physically, bald after chemo treatments, hobbling as his illness progresses, and having seizure-like attacks as he loses his ability to swallow. Family members yell at each other and doctors and nurses as they succumb to tension and despair.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

An adult smokes cigarettes. Prescribed medicines are seen at a boy's bedside table. Parents administer therapeutic oil through a child's feeding tube.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Lorenzo's Oil, a 1992 drama, is based on the real quest two parents embarked on in the 1980s to find a treatment for their young son's devastating, untreatable fatal nerve disease, ALD. The story highlights how catastrophic illness affects all family members. Scenes of the boy's failing health, including falls, bloody bruises, seizures, and other manifestations of painful suffering, may be too emotional and disturbing for young children, not to mention parents of young children. An adult smokes cigarettes. Prescribed medicines are seen at a boy's bedside table. Parents administer therapeutic oil through a child's feeding tube.

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What's the story?

LORENZO'S OIL is based on the real 1980s quest of the Odones, two parents seeking a treatment for Lorenzo, their 6-year-old son succumbing to the rare and devastating terminal nerve disease ALD. Finding a treatment required fighting the medical establishment, which in their eyes seemed more interested in saving scientific reputations than in saving suffering children. Even the leaders of the ALD parent organization refused to disseminate new research the Odones introduced showing that medical trials run by the so-called experts were harming the children. The movie ends on a hopeful note, as the treatment discovered by the Odones reversed some of Lorenzo's symptoms -- he recovered his sight and the ability to swallow. While Lorenzo died at age 30 in 2008, far outliving predictions of his prognosis, the Odones' dedication created a treatment that has stopped the disease completely in children diagnosed early enough to benefit.

Is it any good?

This 136-minute film flies by owing in part to stellar performances by Susan Sarandon (nominated for an Oscar) and Nick Nolte as the Odones. Nolte would seem an odd choice to play a native Italian, but even as he chews his way through a heavy Italian accent, his emotional authenticity keeps the audience firmly in the action. The script by director George Miller and Nick Enright also clearly communicates the Odones' intellectual curiosity, grit, and pain, all factors that drove them to help their son. At the same time as showing us that pain, the writing recounts just enough of the chemistry at the heart of the story to help explain what went wrong in Lorenzo's body and how the treatment they discovered could help him and others afflicted with the same disease. This may owe something to the fact that Miller was a medical doctor before he became a director. Lorenzo's Oil is recommended for teens mature enough to handle the emotional intensity. Bring Kleenex.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the difficulty of helplessly watching a loved one suffer. What does Lorenzo's Oil say about family members who work for a cure that might not be ready in time to help the loved one who inspired the effort?

  • The movie was made within a few years of the time the Odones were working to help Lorenzo, and the fruits of their efforts have saved many children from Lorenzo's fate. Now that Augusto, Michaela, and Lorenzo Odone have all died, what does this movie seem to say about working to leave a legacy that lives on to help others?

  • This movie is emotionally intense. How can you tell if you're mature enough to handle a movie with heavy themes?

  • How do the characters in Lorenzo's Oil demonstrate compassion and empathy? What about courage and perseverance? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

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