Film & TV

Popcorn and Inspiration: ‘Lorenzo’s Oil’: Foreshadows Current Global Health Crisis, Suggests a Solution

BY Mark Jackson TIMEJanuary 27, 2022 PRINT

PG-13 | 2h 9m | Medical Detective-Drama, True Story | January 29,  1992

“Lorenzo’s Oil” (1992) is a true story about a married couple’s (Nick Nolte, Susan Sarandon) refusal to wait for doctors’ and science’s snail-like progress to save their son (Zack O’Malley Greenburg) from the rare disease adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD).

Released during the early ’90s when the AIDS epidemic was at the height of its reign of terror, the film more than subtly commented on science’s slow response to that epidemic. It attempts to portray how modern Western medicine and its foot-dragging is inextricably linked to Big Pharma, to the vast detriment of sufferers around the globe.

man and woman in front of window in LORENZO'S OIL
Michaela Odone (Susan Sarandon) and Augusto Odone (Nick Nolte), in “Lorenzo’s Oil.” (Universal Pictures)

Given all that, “Lorenzo’s Oil” is suddenly current again, with the COVID-19 pandemic or—as this publication chooses to label it—the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus. Dr. Fauci has been revealed to have lied abundantly. Like Sherlock Holmes with a big magnifying glass, we can see the tracks leading to Big Pharma, and famed UFC commentator and podcaster Joe Rogan’s publicizing of Ivermectin as a CCP virus cure makes it basically the Lorenzo’s Oil of the 2020s.

What Is ALD?

The year is 1983, and 5-year-old Lorenzo Odone’s worsening tantrums at school are initially misdiagnosed. As time passes, his mood swings and self-destructive behavior intensify, and it becomes apparent that the Odone family is dealing with an illness that doctors can’t figure out.

two women and boy in LORENZO'S OIL
(L–R) Jake Gimble (Colin Ward), Wendy Gimble (Margo Martindale), a fellow parent with an ALD child, pictured here with her healthy son, and Michaela Odone (Susan Sarandon), in “Lorenzo’s Oil.” (Universal Pictures)

Adrenoleukodystrophy is basically inherited by young boys from their mothers, who function as unwitting carriers with a 50–50 chance of passing on the disease. The disease causes a gradual and fairly horrible degeneration until death, which takes about two years following diagnosis.

boy with electrodes attached to head in LORENZO'S OIL
Lorenzo Odone (Zack O’Malley Greenburg) is a young boy suffering from ALD, in “Lorenzo’s Oil.” (Universal Pictures)

Augusto and Michaela (Nolte, Sarandon) confer with a medical professor (Peter Ustinov), an ALD specialist, but rapidly tire of his dot-all-the-I’s-and-cross-all-the-T’s-in-the-name-of-science approach. However, they do opt to allow Lorenzo to become a subject in an ALD experimental treatment. Soon, though, with doctors and nurses bandying about time frames like seven years to expect results, the Odones jettison their passive approach and roll up their own sleeves.

boy and professor in LORENZO'S OIL
Lorenzo Odone (Zack O’Malley Greenburg, L) and Professor Nikolais (Peter Ustinov), in “Lorenzo’s Oil.” (Universal Pictures)

Lorenzo’s Oil

Augusto gets neck-deep in the local library, medical journals spread everywhere, tracking down a cure. Michaela joins him in study. She also tends to Lorenzo’s deteriorating ability to swallow, learning to keep his trachea clear of moisture so as to avoid horrendously debilitating coughing attacks.

They end up in an ongoing battle with both the medical establishment and other parents of ALD children. But after a few years, they make some progress by helping to develop the titular oil that lessens symptoms and brings hope.

Olive oil poured on salad in LORENZO'S OIL
The actual Lorenzo’s oil being poured on a salad, in a scene from “Lorenzo’s Oil.” (Universal Pictures)

The Right Director

“Lorenzo’s Oil” was directed and co-written by George Miller of the “Mad Max” films, who previously directed Sarandon in “The Witches of Eastwick.” Miller was uniquely qualified to direct “Lorenzo’s Oil,” being a medical doctor himself, with the ability to break the stultifying medical jargon and science down into a layman friendly narrative.

The performances are all very fine, which includes the six child actors who play Lorenzo at various life stages. The casting of the exceedingly Scots-Irish-German Nick Nolte as an Italian is a bit flabbergasting; it results in Nolte speaking fairly quietly early on, because as an actor, trying to pull off a strong Italian accent with the requisite hand gesticulations when that’s not your bread and butter is rather daunting. Eventually, though, he sheds his caution to portray a man passionate about rescuing his son, and the slightly jarring discord of miscasting is swept aside.

Man draws on white board in LORENZO'S OIL
Augusto Odone (Nick Nolte) makes an impromptu medical diagram, in “Lorenzo’s Oil.” (Universal Pictures)

Susan Sarandon dominates “Lorenzo’s Oil” with a fearless performance as a roused mother lioness with a cub in danger, without becoming too off-putting. Sarandon should have won the Oscar but did get a nomination.

Science and Human Disease

The Western world realizes more and more the limitations of Western science and its devotion to glacially paced, minuscule steps in the name of measuring-measuring-measuring, while ignoring common sense. The fact that all this is driven solely by technological competition becomes ever more apparent.

To quote Henry Gee, a senior editor of Nature,

“One thing that never gets emphasized enough in science, or in schools, or anywhere else, is that no matter how fancy-schmancy your statistical technique, the output is always a probability level (a P-value), the “significance” of which is left for you to judge… Statistics, and therefore science, can only advise on probability—they cannot determine The Truth. …

“None of this gets through to the news pages. When pitching a science story to a news editor, a science correspondent soon learns that the answer that gets airtime is either “yes”, or “no”. Either the Voyager space probe has left the solar system, or it hasn’t. To say that it might have done and attach statistical caveats is a guaranteed turn-off.”

man and woman in LORENZO'S OIL
Augusto Odone (Nick Nolte) and Michaela Odone (Susan Sarandon) are husband and wife, in “Lorenzo’s Oil.” (Universal Pictures)

This is all to say, in this time of the CCP virus, get inspired by watching “Lorenzo’s Oil.” Observe the true story of a couple of lay people rolling up their sleeves and coming up with a common sense cure—Lorenzo’s Oil for little Lorenzo Odonethat stymied medical professionals. America used to be a proud nation of bootstrappers and do-it-yourselfers. Probably best not to leave our health up to the “experts.”

Now, it must be said that one problem with the current mandated vaccine is that it was handled in exactly the opposite method than what those who worship at the altar of science demand from science—it was rushed through with no testing for long-term effects. And there have been cases reported of problems due to the vaccine. So, slow and steady science has its place. But that was all thrown out the window and not in the name of common sense. As the detectives say, “Follow the money.” Examine Big Pharma’s involvement. “Lorenzo’s Oil” foreshadowed our current global health situation.

Here’s a fine example of someone noticing what the doctor prescribed was way off, and doing their own research:  

‘Lorenzo’s Oil’
Director: George Miller
Starring: Nick Nolte, Susan Sarandon, Margo Martindale, Peter Ustinov, Zack O’Malley Greenburg
Running Time: 2 hours, 9 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Release Date: Jan. 29, 1993
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Mark Jackson
Film Critic
Mark Jackson is the senior film critic for The Epoch Times. Mark has 20 years' experience as a professional New York actor, classical theater training, and a BA in philosophy. He recently narrated the Epoch Times audiobook “How the Specter of Communism is Ruling Our World,” and has a Rotten Tomatoes author page.
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