Saturday, 19 May 2007
Lorenzo’s Oil (1992) dir. George Miller
Starring: Nick Nolte, Susan Sarandon
George Miller is a great filmmaker with one of the most eclectic bodies of work. The man who created the “Mad Max” series, the "Babe" series and won on Oscar for an animated film, “Happy Feet”, also directed the compelling and emotional drama, “Lorenzo’s Oil”. He pretty much is a visual genius, able to adapt his visual panache to whichever story he chooses to tell.
“Lorenzo’s Oil” has no action scenes, talking animals, or dancing penguins, it’s a film based on the true story of Augusto and Michaela Odone’s fight to save the life of their son, Lorenzo from arare degenerative brain disease. The film literally jumps right into the story when Lorenzo, as a young child, has his first collapse and is diagnosed with adrenoleukodystrophy within the first 5 minutes of the film. ALD affects the brain, resulting in frequent collapses, loss of hearing, memory loss and eventually complete loss of motor skills. It’s so rare, it had only been identified as a disease 10 years prior and very little research is available. The doctors therefore cannot treat the child nor give the Odones any hope for a cure. When they meet other parents with similar children in more advanced stages of the disease the shock and awe causes them to go on a 10 year long search for a cure.
The Odones travel across the world to gain knowledge and insight about the disease. A few doctors have tinkered with it, almost as a hobby, but no one is a definitive expert, and no one has the funds to make it a full time effort. With that, the Odones take it upon themselves to learn the science of the disease and its effects on the body and develop a cure themselves. Their journey is remarkable. They are not doctors, but by the end of the film they have soaked up as much knowledge that short of having a diploma in their hands they become unofficial specialists in hematology and neuro-anatomy.
The film never dumbs down to the audience. As the Odones learn the chemistry of the disease so does the audience. Miller, who was a doctor before turning to filmmaking, explains the important details of cell biology with succinct clarity. At times the information passed through the screen makes it feel like biology 101, but education is never a bad thing, and it's remarkable how much more knowledgeable of the human body you will be after the film.
The intrinsic details of their scientific journey eventually consume and dominate their life at the expense of likeability and common decency. Michaela turns into a stark raving mad obsessive bitch. Eventually she turns all of her nurses away, leaving Michaela with the full burden of administering the palliative care for her increasing ailing child.
The building blocks of research eventually results in a partial cure. Miller doesn’t give us a magical deus ex machina discovery; instead it’s derived from a logical progression of their research, which I’ll leave to the audience to discover themselves.
Though the story is emotional due the extreme nature of the disease, Miller tells the story using fact and science as its basis, and therefore the characters are all business when it comes to moving the story forward. The Odones are moving too fast to pause and grieve. If they do, they themselves might shut down and give up the fight. It’s also interesting to note that we never really get to know Lorenzo as a character, he is diagnosed too quickly into the story and we’re in fourth gear right from the start.
George Miller’s fast-paced and uniquely quirky directing style fits surprisingly well with the subject matter. Where the camera could have become a static observer instead becomes a dynamic visual delight. The only major fault of the film perhaps is the casting of Nick Nolte as Augusto. Although Nolte’s trademark intensity is appropriate for the character, I never could get past his Italian accent, which at inappropriate times did bring a chuckle or two to my face.
The film doesn’t really end. Research is ongoing and Augusto Odone continues his journey toward a full cure. You have to visit the Myelin Project website to see the current status of the story. Enjoy.
Buy it here: Lorenzo's Oil
Unfortunately no suitable youtube clips exist. But here’s an interview with Miller: