Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hour 9 min.
Our content advisories (1-10): Violence 1; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
Be not far from me, for trouble is near
and there is none to help.
Psalm 22 : 11
This powerful true story, combining themes from David and Goliath and Job, celebrates the strength of the human spirit when faced with overwhelming odds. Augusto Odone (Nick Nolte) an Italian working for the World Bank, and his wife Michaela (Susan Sarandon), a linguist, are parents of a bright, lively son Lorenzo. He is struck down by a mysterious malady when he is almost six years old. Their doctor rules out any tropical disease that he might have picked up during their sojourn in East Africa, finally determining that the boy has ALD, short for a long named disease that is so rare that little is known about it except that it always kills its victims, usually within two years.
The Odones refuse to accept his advice to go home and make Lorenzo as comfortable as possible as he awaits the inevitable. Relieved by her sister in watching over Lorenzo, Michaela practically moves into the nearby medical library, where Augusto joins her during all of his spare time. Their persistence pays off when they discover a paper, in an obscure Polish journal, about some research that might be related to ALD.
More daunting than the general ignorance of the disease is the attitude of most people that they are intruding into the domain of the medical profession. The Odones find that there is an ALD society, but its leaders never question anything that the medical advisers say. When the Odone’s raise questions, they are regarded as trouble making upstarts by both the doctors and the lay leadership. Even after the couple achieve some measure of success in their search, they are called “arrogant.” Lorenzo reminds the accuser that the Latin base “arrogare” means “to claim for oneself”, and that is just what they are doing, claiming for them selves the responsibility for caring for their only child.
Some of the scenes showing Lorenzo’s physical deterioration are harrowing, so that we can understand why nurses suggest that they stop torturing themselves and their son and accept the “inevitable.” Michaela’s angry answer is to dismiss them; even when her sister waivers, she orders her out of the house. Michaela’s own faith in God wanes under the tremendous anguish and questioning. Their research does pay off, though not to the extent of a complete cure, but the oil which is discovered stops the progress of the disease, helping hundreds of others from becoming worse. The Odones are aided by a large network of caring friends and relatives, some of the former being parents of an ALD child, so that they learn that they are not alone in their struggle.
This stirring film is not for those who want their movie fare to be escapist pap. Parts of it will be disturbing, especially to parents who will think that this could be happening to their own children, but the courage of both the boy and his parents is amazing, a wonder to behold, and leaves you thankful that there are such tenderhearted, tough-minded human beings.