In an attempt to make my blog less focused on features produced within the last twenty-five years I will endeavor to make “Lorenzo’s Oil” the last of what has become a long string of films from the 1990’s. This has been brought on by both accident and also my own hubris as the 90’s was the decade of my childhood and the one I have the most affinity with whether it be in film, television, music or technology from that time. That is by no means to say that such the decade was superior to others (especially where the music was concerned) however it is the period of my life that I have the most emotional connectivity with, a connection that I have not shared in even with the early 2000’s as life sadly became a tad more complicated when growing up.
With that in mind Lorenzo’s Oil might just be THE most emotionally charged example that I could find to end this focus of 90’s cinema I’ve been featuring, as well as being one of the more touching stories I could have reviewed for this blog. It follows the real life tale of Lorezno Odone, a perfectly healthy child who sadly became diagnosed with an incredibly rare disease known as Adrenoleukodystrophy or ALD. ALD is a condition that prohibits the body from producing two types of fatty acids that the brain requires to function normally (I am not an expert on the disease so forgive me if I have missed out other details of the condition). We sadly watch Lorenzo from age 7 slowly deteriorate from a perfectly healthy child to one who is barely able to walk, then speak, and eventually not move at all, only able to eat through a tube inserted inside of him. This kind of child-medical melodrama is tackled in a very mature way though luckily from the films director George Miller; a rather surprising choice to direct such a subject matter since his past exploits include Australia’s famous Mad Max trilogy.
For a mainly American audience however Lorenzo’s condition is simplified but not insultingly so. The plight that his two desperate parents go through skips some of the more minute but just as important steps that they took to finding a cure for their son in real life. And a cure they did find…..to a degree. I won’t go into more about the plot, apart from the films ending later, as I do not wish to ruin it for anyone reading this who might be interested in the journey that Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon’s characters undergo in their desperate search for help. Luckily for us as an audience the story does not gradually transform into another “woe is me and no one will help my cause” tale seen so often from Hollywood. There are plenty of characters that aid the Odone’s and their son in their quest as well as numerous doctors and medical experts who eventually assist them in a treatment, going against what medical science at the time stated about the horrors of ALD.
I first watched Lorenzo’s Oil when I was 14 years of age on an old VHS cassette taken from TV. Sadly I only had the last hour of the film on the tape due to another film being recorded over it. However even on missing out the beginning of this story I was spell bounded by the emotional power of the performances in it. You can mock Nick Nolte’s honest attempt at an Italian accent quite easily but both himself and Susan Sarandon are incredible as the struggling parents who only want their child to become healthy again, like any parent in the world would. Zack Greenburg, who plays the ill-fated Lorenzo, is phenomenal in his captivating and heart-wrenching performance, a screaming child who has no idea of what is happening to him and becomes understandably frightened very quickly. The kind of simple innocence that he exudes in his portrayal, most likely due to this being his first and only film, convinces you even more that he is genuinely sick or that he perhaps is in fact the real Lorenzo that they somehow got to star in the film, but only perhaps.