In the new film Still Alice we watch the beautiful and vivacious Julianne Moore deteriorate, disintegrate, and disappear right before our eyes.
A celebrated linguistics professor at Columbia University, Moore prides herself on being articulate, innovative, and well respected by her colleagues. Her life is built around her love of words. But at the age of 50 she is suddenly and unexpectedly assaulted by a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, who wrote and directed the film from a novel by Lisa Genova, handle the accelerated pace of the disease with delicacy and sensitivity, but even so, it is a heart-breaking experience to watch.
Bolstered by the tender support of her husband, Alec Baldwin, and her three grown children, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, and Hunter Parrish, Moore struggles with her fears, her frustration, and her desire not to burden her family. But of course the inherent family disagreements become exaggerated as she attempts to guide her family in directions that she believes will be beneficial to them.
For example, she continues to badger her daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart), an actress, to go to college to acquire “a skill that she can fall back on” if her acting career doesn’t work out. Lydia, who is in love with her chosen profession, sees Moore’s beseeching as a sign that her mother doesn’t believe in her ability to make a successful life in the theater and, full of resentment, she leaves New York for Hollywood.
Meanwhile, Moore’s mental deterioration has become apparent to her students and, in their evaluation of her teaching skills many deliver a devastating critique. Shocked that they are aware of her deteriorating condition, she accepts the inevitable and eventually allows herself to be dismissed from the university.
Although the film treats her symptoms gently, she exhibits many that those who care for Alzheimer’s patients will recognize. She periodically becomes hostile, and she asks the same questions again and again just minutes after she has received the answer.
In the end, this vibrant woman has become the ghost of her former self. She can barely talk and she is nearly unrecognizable physically. And so the question subliminally posed by the film’s title becomes significantly relevant: Is Alice still Alice if she is no longer present?
Still Alice is playing in a few select theaters in Los Angeles in time to be considered for the Oscars which, despite an exceptionally strong group of contenders, Julianne Moore deserves to win.
The film will open wide in a few weeks.