Still Alice is the story of Alice Howland, a highly successful linguistics professor at Columbia University with a stable, loving personal life… and early onset familial Alzheimer’s disease. One of the cruellest afflictions Mother Nature can dole a person is powerfully portrayed by Julianne Moore’s stunning central performance that channels a brave, unflinching script – a script that ends up affecting just as painfully as Theroux’s Extreme Love Alzheimer’s episode or Don Hertzfeldt’s It’s Such A Beautiful Day.
Described as “Shockingly accurate” by sufferers, Still Alice adds to the reams of Alzheimer’s “awareness” material by focusing one of the movies’ strongest actresses on it, an actress who gives a chillingly realistic experience to the audience. Alzheimer’s is horrific because it embodies the rational fear of losing one’s mind that we all share (something I believe Terry Pratchett is almost a hero for explaining as he did). We are not our possessions, we are not our achievements, we are the mind we project on a daily basis – “I wish I had cancer so I wasn’t such a social… a social… I forgot the word” Alice says, struggling to vocalise that exact notion.
Though some might call the flm depressing, disheartening or distressing there is a bright underlying message here which in one of the film’s most emotional scenes, Alice reading her speech to a scientific audience, is made very clear. She explains the importance of living in the now for a person in her situation; how she can’t afford to dwell on the person she was or become anxious about who she’s becoming. The progression of Alice’s Alzheimer’s is the story of the film and at about halfway Alice begs her husband to take a year’s sabbatical so they can enjoy what she believes is her final year of being herself – a smart move in my opinion but the denial (premature grieving?) of her husband and family denies her this. Watching Alice’s beautiful mind deteriorate is embellished by smart filmmaking like shortening of the depth of field to create blurry, disorientating bokeh that reflects the fuzzying and erasing of Alice’s persona.
Here you’ll find a deserved Oscar win for Moore, a performance full of subtlety that’s backed by some solid supporting roles namely Alec Baldwin as her husband and Kristen Stewart as her free-spirited and open-minded daughter. Some of my favourite moments were simply looks from those two of this pained understanding and suppression of anger which evolves into acceptance as more and more odd reactions Alice makes are forced upon them. Understated moments like this kept Still Alice from over-stepping emotionally, something I thought could happen (and thankfully didn’t) after an incident with Kristen’s journal which felt a little too unreal and dramatized.
I think watching this film and any other Alzheimer’s related media is essential nowadays simply to help anyone recognise how someone suffering might feel and if more people knew how it felt, maybe more might contribute to helping to find a cure.