Still Alice is a new film based on the novel by Lisa Genova. It chronicles the true story of Alice Howland, an over achieving linguistics professor played by Julianne Moore. For her role in this film Moore already earned a Golden Globe Award as well as a much deserved Lead Actress Oscar nomination. The movie also features an impressive supporting cast including Alec Baldwin, Kate Bosworth, and former Twilight starlet Kristen Stewart. Still Alice was co-directed by screenwriter Richard Glatzer along with Wash Westmoreland. Glatzer, who suffers from ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is unable to speak and therefore used a text to speech iPad app in order to help direct the drama.
Still Alice is a difficult and emotionally taxing film to watch. It gives viewers a rare opportunity to witness the heartbreaking mental descent of a healthy, vibrant, intelligent, and successful fifty-year-old woman into a virtual shell of a human being who must continuously struggle with significant memory loss and limited cognitive function. What makes Alice’s situation even more difficult to understand and cope with is the fact that she’s dedicated her entire life to studying, researching, writing about, and teaching highly issues related to language and brain function.
The film is not only about the progress of Alice’s degenerative disease but also how her new diagnosis affects every member of her family. Alice is married to John, a highly regarded medical researcher (Baldwin) and has three grown children. Soon after finding out that she’s suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s, Alice also learns that her kids may also possess the gene which would mean that later in life they’d have a hundred per cent chance of contacting the disease themselves. Because of this troubling information Alice must not only struggle with the increasingly disabling symptoms of her disease but also confront feelings of guilt regarding the future health of her children.
Part of the power of Still Alice is the quiet dignity with which Alice and her family deal with the effects of Alzheimer’s. As the disease rapidly takes over more and more aspects of her daily life the filmmaker’s give viewers the ability to witness the increasing toll it has on her mind and quality of life. At the beginning of the movie the lead character is a highly respected professor but as the narrative progresses this once autonomous, independent, and proud woman steadily loses ground until she’s a shell of her former self who requires constant supervision.
Still Alice successfully avoids the cliché of being preachy or overwhelming audiences with too much technical medical information regarding the cause and/or progression of the disease. Instead the filmmakers are able to capture one woman’s heartbreaking descent into someone hopelessly lost in her own mind. Alice’s memories quickly fade and at times she becomes lost and unaware of her surroundings. Despite her tragic circumstances, however, due in large part to the love and support of her family Alice is still able to retain a degree of her former identity and a sense of inherent dignity.
Kristen Stewart is highly competent in her role as Lydia, Alice’s rebellious youngest daughter. The final scene in the film is a particularly heart rending one which is both touching and astonishingly intimate. Throughout the film several references are made to Tony Kushner’s award winning play Angels in America. When Lydia reads to her dwindling mother she uses the text to illustrate how even amidst great tragedy there is love.
Still Alice is an important film which sheds light on early onset Alzheimer ’s disease. As usual Julianne Moore delivers a fantastic performance which will surely make her a front runner at the Academy Awards ceremony. One word of advice though, if you go to see Still Alice bring along plenty of tissues.
Still Alice is in theatres now.