Still Alice

Graham Clements
“Still Alice” is a recently-released movie about a woman diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It tells the story of university professor Dr Alice Howland. The disease causes memory and thinking problems. Alice is ashamed of the effects the disease has on her. The movie is based on a novel by Lisa Genova, whose grandmother had dementia. Alice is realistically portrayed by Julianne Moore who has won many awards for her performance, including an Oscar. “Still Alice” is a sad movie that offers little hope to those with Alzheimer’s.
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Graham Clements on 26/02/2015
The movie's poster has a photo of Julianne Moore.
Julianne Moore plays Alice.

Julianne Moore plays Alice.

“Still Alice” is the fictional story of Dr Alice Howland, a professor of linguistics. The movie opens at her fiftieth birthday celebration. She is at a restaurant with her husband and three adult children. During the dinner she has trouble recalling names of people close to the family. She quickly glosses over her failure to remember.

While giving a presentation at a major conference she struggles to recall a word. This time she glosses over her memory failure with a joke. When driving home the word, lexicon, finally comes to her. It is a word a linguist would frequently use.

Days later Alice goes for a jog on her regular route. She stops in confusion as she momentarily has no idea where she is. In a later discussion with her husband she says he never told her something that he is sure he mentioned. Her memory lapses are adding up. Worried that she might have a brain tumour, Alice sees a doctor.

Alzheimer’s disease

The doctor performs some tests. He asks Alice to remember a name and address for her to recall at the end of the appointment.  Many in the movie’s audience will probably try and remember the name and address too. The doctor asks her other questions before asking for the name and address. Alice can only remember the name. Many in the audience will probably only recall the name too. But they should not worry as the failure to remember names and addresses is common with aging. Unfortunately for Alice, further tests show she has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. 

Alzheimer’s is a disease of the brain and is the most common form of dementia. It causes problems with memory, thinking and behaviour and usually occurs in those aged over 65. There is no treatment or cure.

Alice’s reaction

Alice reacts badly to the diagnosis. She feels ashamed of what the disease is doing to her memory and intellect. She tries to hide her deteriorating memory from others, but she also prepares for the worst. She visits a nursing home to see what life might be like for her as the disease progresses. Not happy with what she sees, she prepares a suicide plan for when her symptoms worsen. Her family try to be supportive. But Alice wishes she had cancer instead of Alzheimer’s as people know what cancer is and have empathy for cancer sufferers.

Realistic performance

Julianne Moore plays Alice. She appears in just about every scene as the movie is told almost entirely from Alice’s viewpoint.  Moore portrays Alice as a determined woman who fights the disease all the way. Her believable and unsentimental performance effectively shows the disease mentally and physically ravaging Alice. Moore has won many awards for her performance, including a 2014 best actress Academy Award and a Golden Globe.

Alec Baldwin plays her husband who tries to keep their relationship and his career on track. Kristen Stewart is Lydia, one of Alice’s two daughters. Lydia is a struggling actress who tries to help her mother live with the disease. Kate Bosworth plays Anna, her other daughter. Anna wants her mother’s condition managed in the most efficient way, even if limits Alice’s independence.  

Based on a neuroscientist’s novel

The movie was written and directed by both Richard Glazter and Wash Westmoreland. It is based on a novel of the same name by Lisa Genova. Genova has a PhD in neuroscience from Harvard University.

In an interview with “Alz Forum”, Genova says while she was studying she discovered her grandmother had Alzheimer’s disease. She said, “there was little we could do but watch the disease disassemble the woman I knew as my grandmother”. As a neuroscientist she said she found the disease fascinating and decided to write a novel where the main character had early-onset Alzheimer’s. Before she started, she read every book she could find on the subject and interviewed neurologists.

“Still Alice” is a harrowing film that completely engages the viewer. It sets out to realistically portray one woman’s life with Alzheimer’s. Those who have family or friends with Alzheimer’s or dementia will recognise much of what occurs in the movie. The movie will not ease the fears of those with Alzheimer’s or their families. It shows much of what could lie ahead of them, which will scare many.  

Readers comments (2)

I think I would rather have cancer too, unless it was a brain tumour. Anything that strips away your memories and personality is a destiny too horrible to contemplate. Great review.

Yes it certainly depicts the frightening reality of the disease. It pulls no punches. Very sad and hard for families. It's a very good film though.

Good review.

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