Reviewed by: Brett Willis
Starring: Nick Nolte, Susan Sarandon, Peter Ustinov, Kathleen Wilhoite, Gerry Bamman, Margo Martindale, James Rebhorn, Ann Hearn, Maduka Steady, Mary Wakio | Director: George Miller | Writing credits: Nick Enright, George Miller
If you’re in a mood for light entertainment, better look for another film. But if you’d like to see how powerful parental love can be, here’s an excellent choice.
This is the true story of Lorenzo Odone, who has a disease that destroys the insulation on his nerve cells; and of his parents, who take on the medical and scientific community when they insist on more and better research and on shorter timetables for releasing new treatments.
When the Odones learn that Lorenzo is untreatable and will probably die within two years, they dedicate themselves to doing whatever they can. Both of them learn genetics and biochemistry in order to understand what’s happening to their son and possibly to help in finding better treatments. They underwrite a Symposium on the disease (A.L.D.) and follow up on the most promising therapies suggested there. Finding that Lorenzo’s prescribed diet has the opposite of its intended effect, they devise an alternate diet, which proves more effective. Since the support group is geared to helping parents cope with suffering and death rather than to giving hope, they ruffle feathers even there.
No sexual content. Two or three instances of mild profanity. Some quarreling, as the parents are exhausted—Mom from caring for Lorenzo, Dad from juggling his job and his research. Lorenzo’s disease (resulting in gradual loss of bodily control, sight, hearing etc.) is portrayed realistically. Mom stubbornly gives Lorenzo not only medical care but constant stimulation. She dismisses one homecare nurse for suggesting a hospice, and another for saying of Lorenzo: “The lights are out and there’s nobody home.” The leader of the support group says of his own son: “For two years he’s been without everything that makes him a human being. He’s a vegetable.” The prevailing view is that heroic efforts are wrong and the kind thing is to let these children die quickly once they reach the blind and deaf stage. Without giving away the whole film, I must note that the Odones' belief that Lorenzo is really “still in there” is eventually proven correct, and that their work helps many other children with the same disease.
I understand that most parents wouldn’t have the resources or the endurance to do what the Odones did, and would depend on medical science to tell them what to do. Unfortunately, medical science (to say nothing of the insurance industry) is no longer committed to the sanctity of human life and is increasingly driven by convenience and finances. And the opponents of the pro-life movement often use language such as we hear in this film. They define “human” in a sociological rather than a biological sense, as “being integrated with the community.” By that mushy yardstick, no one is fully human, but some are more human than others; and those who are less human (the Nazi term was “subhuman”) can be ignored—or worse. Like the similar film “Awakenings”, this movie challenges us to treat everyone with respect, regardless of their condition.