Lorenzo's Oil

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Lorenzo's Oil
Lorenzo's Oil.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGeorge Miller
Written byGeorge Miller
Nick Enright
Produced byDoug Mitchell
George Miller
CinematographyJohn Seale
Edited byRichard Francis-Bruce
Marcus D'Arcy
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • December 30, 1992 (1992-12-30) (Limited)
  • January 29, 1993 (1993-01-29) (United States)
  • February 26, 1993 (1993-02-26) (United Kingdom)
Running time
129 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$30 million
Box office$7.2 million

Lorenzo's Oil is a 1992 American drama film co-written and directed by George Miller. It is based on the true story of Augusto and Michaela Odone, two parents in a relentless search for a cure for their son Lorenzo's adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD). It was filmed primarily from September 1991 to February 1992 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.[1] The film had a limited release in North America on December 30, 1992, with a nationwide release two weeks later on January 15, 1993. It was generally well received by the critics and received two nominations at the 65th Academy Awards, though it was a box office disappointment, grossing $7.2 million against its $30 million budget.


Lorenzo is a bright and vibrant young boy living in the Comoro Islands, as his father Augusto works for the World Bank and is stationed there. However, when his parents relocate back to the United States, he begins to show signs of neurological problems (such as falling, loss of hearing, tantrums, etc.). The boy is diagnosed as having adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), which is fatal within two years. Failing to find a doctor capable of treating their son's rare disease Augusto and his wife, Michaela, set out on a mission to find a treatment to save their son. In their quest, the Odones clash with doctors, scientists and a support group that is skeptical that anything could be done about ALD, much less by laypeople. But they persist, setting up camp in medical libraries, reviewing animal experiments, enlisting the aid of Professor Gus Nikolais, badgering researchers, questioning top doctors all over the world and even organizing an international symposium about the disease.

Despite research dead-ends, the horror of watching their son's health decline and being surrounded by skeptics (including the coordinators of the support group they attend), they persist until they finally hit upon a possible therapy. The Odones sponsor an international meeting of scientists doing research on ALD, requiring two conditions ahead of time. First they insist that the meeting focus on potential treatments and second, they require that they be allowed to participate, despite being non-scientist laypeople. The pivotal scene in the movie portrays this meeting, in which the scientists are presenting their research. When Dr. William B. Rizzo mentions his studies in which the addition of oleic acid to cultured cells blocked accumulation of the factors which cause ALD, the Odones jump into the conversation, asking if this oil might help their son. Although the scientists play down their hope, pointing out that it would take years of work to produce the oil and test in clinical trials, the Odones seize the promise of this possible curative treatment. As the scene ends, Michaela Odone is shown beginning the effort to find someone able and willing to produce the same oil Dr. Rizzo gave to his cells. They contact over 100 firms around the world until they find an elderly British chemist, Don Suddaby, who is working for Croda International and is willing to take on the challenge of distilling the proper formula.

The Odones obtain a precious vial of the oil (actually containing two specific long chain fatty acids, isolated from rapeseed oil and olive oil) and add it to their son's diet. This treatment proves successful in normalizing the accumulation of the very long chain fatty acids (which had been causing their son's steady decline), as measured in blood levels. This treatment halts the progression of his disease and is dubbed "Lorenzo's Oil". This oil is soon found to be successful in preventing the progression of harm in other patients with ALD. Meanwhile, however, Lorenzo has a great deal of neurological damage, and the Odones are dismayed to see that the oil can reverse their son's symptoms only very, very slowly. The Odones realize that more rapid improvement of his son's severe condition will require treatments to repair the myelin sheath (a lipid insulator) around the nerves, and Augusto is shown taking on the new challenge of organizing biomedical efforts to heal myelin damage in patients.

Finally, Lorenzo, at the age of 14, shows definite improvement (swallowing for himself and answering "yes" or "no" questions by blinking) and it is revealed that he has regained his sight, can move his head from side to side, vocalize simple sounds and is learning to use a computer. The movie ends with scenes of ALD patients who were treated with Lorenzo's Oil earlier in the course of their disease. In these patients the devastating neurological problems from which Lorenzo suffered were able to be prevented.



Principal photography for Lorenzo's Oil began on September 9, 1991 in Ben Avon, Pennsylvania.[3]

Possibly to emphasize the "Everyman" aspect of the plot (the notion that a cure could affect families and individuals anywhere), many smaller roles were played by inexperienced actors or non-actors with unusual physical features and mannerisms. For example, the poet James Merrill was noticed by a casting director at a New York public reading of his poetry. His rarefied speaking cadences were utilized in a symposium scene in which he played a questioning doctor.


The film features Allegri's Miserere, Edward Elgar's cello concerto, as well as Barber's Adagio for Strings and Mozart's Ave verum corpus K.618.

The opening song is "Kijana Mwana Mwali" (Swahili, "Song about a Young Lady"), sung by the Gonda Traditional Entertainers.

A 1960 recording of Maria Callas with the La Scala orchestra and chorus is heard singing selections from Bellini's Norma at several points.

The music for the Easter Midnight Mass scene is a Russian Orthodox Church hymn, "Bogoroditse Devo" (Rejoice, O Virgin) from "Three Choruses from 'Tsar Feodor Ioannovich'", taken from the album Sacred Songs of Russia by Gloriae Dei Cantores.

Other music include Barber's Agnus Dei and Mahler's Symphony No. 5.


Critical response[edit]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times gave the film four out of four stars and called it an "immensely moving and challenging movie".[4] He added, "it was impossible not to get swept up in it" and James Berardinelli of ReelViews gave it three out of four stars and claimed, "it was about the war for knowledge and the victory of hope through perseverance."[5] Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes retrospectively collected reviews from 39 critics to give the film a score of 92%, with an average rating of 7.07/10, as of September 2020. The website's consensus reads, "A harrowing tribute to the heroism of parental love, Lorenzo's Oil is kept from abject misery by George Miller's sensitive direction and outstanding performances from Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon."[6]

Medical response[edit]

Though the film seemed to accurately portray the events related to the boy's condition and his parents' efforts during the time period covered by the film, it was criticized for painting a picture of a miracle cure.[7] Subsequent research with Lorenzo's oil has not clearly proven its long-term effectiveness in treating ALD after its onset.[8] The actual subject of the film, Lorenzo Odone, died of pneumonia in May 2008 at the age of 30, having lived two decades longer than originally predicted by doctors.[9]

Hugo Moser, on whom the character of Professor Nikolais was based, called the film's portrayal of that character "an abomination".[10]

Box office[edit]

The film grossed $7,286,388 domestically with a budget of around $30 million.[11][12]

Awards and honors[edit]

Lorenzo's Oil was nominated twice at the 65th Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Susan Sarandon) and Best Original Screenplay (George Miller & Nick Enright).

Susan Sarandon was nominated for Best Actress in a Drama at the 50th Golden Globe Awards.

The film was nominated for Best Original Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen at the WGA Awards.

Also, the film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

See also[edit]

  • Voglia di vivere, a 1990 Italian television film depicting the same story.
  • Lorenzo, a song by Phil Collins, released on the 1996 album Dance into the Light, is based on a poem Michaela wrote about Lorenzo.
  • Extraordinary Measures, a 2010 film depicting the true story of another set of parents' struggle to find a cure for their children's rare disease.


  1. ^ "Pittsburgh - City lands good share of movies". The Vindicator. 10 December 1995.
  2. ^ Dietary erucic acid therapy for X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy, abstract only. Rizzo, WB, Leshner RT, Odone A, Dammann AL, Craft DA, Jensen ME, Jennings SS, Davis S, Jaitly R, Sgro JA. Neurology. 1989 Nov;39(11);1415-22; Adrenoleukodystrophy_ oleic acid lowers fibroblast saturated C22-26 fatty acids, abstract only. Rizzo, WB, Watkins PA, Phillips MW, Cranin D, Campbell B, Avigan J. Neurology. 1986 Mar;36(3);357-61
  3. ^ Blank, Ed (August 31, 1991). "Producer excited about Ben Avon as site for movie 'Lorenzo's Oil'". Pittsburgh Press. Retrieved May 12, 2015.
  4. ^ "Lorenzo's Oil". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved 2010-11-21.
  5. ^ "Lorenzo's Oil". ReelViews. Retrieved 2010-11-21.
  6. ^ https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/lorenzos_oil/
  7. ^ "Lorenzo's Oil: The full story". BBC News. BBC News. 21 July 2004. Retrieved 2012-10-11.
  8. ^ Moser, H. W.; Moser, A. B.; Hollandsworth, K.; Brereton, N. H.; Raymond, G. V. (2007). ""Lorenzo's oil" therapy for X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy: Rationale and current assessment of efficacy". Journal of Molecular Neuroscience. 33 (1): 105–113. doi:10.1007/s12031-007-0041-4. PMID 17901554. S2CID 21333247.
  9. ^ "Lorenzo loses battle for life but legacy of hope lives on". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Ltd. 31 May 2008. Retrieved 2012-10-11.
  10. ^ "Hugo Moser, 82; neurologist's portrayal in 'Lorenzo's Oil' belied his real character". Los Angeles Times. 26 January 2007. Retrieved 2017-05-07.
  11. ^ "Lorenzo's Oil (1992)". IMDB. Retrieved 9 August 2012.
  12. ^ "Lorenzo's Oil". BoxOfficeMojo. Retrieved 24 September 2012.
  13. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-14.

External links[edit]