Julianne Moore gives a compelling performance in her new film "Still Alice." (Image via IndieWire)
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Julianne Moore gives a compelling performance in her new film "Still Alice." (Image via IndieWire)

The film portrays Alzheimer’s as the intensely personal disease that it is.

In “Still Alice,” Julianne Moore stars as Alice Howland, a highly renowned linguistics professor who must struggle through her sudden and tragic development of early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

The film, in addition to netting Moore an Oscar for best performance by an actress in a leading role, unflinchingly details the gruesome progression of this terrible illness and the strains that an entire family must endure as a consequence.

Family’s Response

A loving mother of three and wife to a devoted husband, Alice appears to possess the strong foundation of a supportive family and all its trappings. However, as the film and her disease progress, the family members become noticeably exhausted with the daily tasks that they must undertake in order to guarantee Alice’s safety and well-being.

“Still Alice” shows how the family yearns to focus on themselves and their own lives. Even her husband, John Howland, the man who took an oath to be with her in sickness and in health, chooses to pursue a job opportunity instead of watching over his beloved. In the end, only one of Alice’s children, Lydia (played by Kristen Stewart), decides to stay with her.

It makes you wonder what we owe our family? How deep do familial commitments run? Must we sacrifice our own happiness in order to secure our family members’? You can’t help but to look on with disgust at John’s decision to essentially abandon his wife, but can you really say that you would act any differently? Could you abandon your own life to dedicate the time and effort that is required to take care of someone in this state, even if you loved them?

Alice’s Initial Response

By establishing Moore’s character as an extremely intelligent professor who prides herself on her work and intellect, “Still Alice” ensures that her eventual “fall” will be all the more devastating than an average person’s. Alice attempts to delay the disease’s progression by practicing word memorization.

Once she realizes that she is fighting a losing battle, she illuminates how much this tragedy sincerely destroys her when she records a video for her future disease-suffering self. The video explains how to commit suicide, without expressly stating that it is suicide. While Alice’s attempts to follow her own instructions do not work (due to the forgetfulness that her illness causes), the video is a source of intense grief for movie-viewers.

Kristen Stewart and Julianne Moore give a compelling performance in the film “Still Alice.” (Image via The Simmons Voice)

We realize how deeply affected Alice is by her disease. She does not even wish to live if that means she must suffer from this disease.

Again, the film raises questions for the audience. How much do you value your mind? Would you go this far to prevent it from deteriorating? Would you make this sacrifice in order to relieve your family of the burden of your well-being?

Alice’s Second Response

Perhaps one of the most moving scenes in the entire movie takes place when Alice delivers a speech to the Alzheimer’s Association. She holds nothing back as she vividly describes what it is like to live with the disease.  “Who can take us seriously when we are so far from who we once were? Our strange behavior and fumbled sentences change others perceptions of us, and our perception of ourselves. We become ridiculous, incapable, comic. But this is not who we are. This is our disease. And like any disease… it could have a cure.” She implores the audience to actively research and study this disease in order to discover a cure.

One of the most interesting aspects of this speech is the applicability of the topic matter. The quote could be describing any sort of mental illness. Alice highlights the need for a separation of the illness from the person. Society tends to utilize a mostly albeit perspective when viewing others.

We immediately notice the irregularities that exist in those who are not entirely healthy mentally or otherwise. We allow a person’s disease or disability to obscure who they really are, but no one chooses to suffer from a disease. They simply endure it the best they can. Alice points all of this out in her speech. She reveals the truth.

Not only does this movie raise some interesting questions for the audience and pull on the heart-strings, but it is also a pretty accurate portrayal of Alzheimer’s. In order to achieve such a precise simulation, Moore performed extensive research on the disease.

Moore discusses her research in an interview with IndieWire. She states, “For me, all the research that I did — people have this notion that with Alzheimer’s, somehow the ‘self’ disappears. They’re like, ‘That’s not the person I knew,’ and ‘Somehow the self has gone away, somehow they’re not present anymore.’ But in all my research and dealings with people, I’ve found the opposite. The people, they were changed, certainly, but their personality somehow remained. That was really, tremendously moving to me.”

Again, Moore explains that, while the disease can most assuredly alter how a person acts, it does not completely erase that person. They still exist and deserve to be treated as such.

Under Moore’s confident lead, “Still Alice” depicts a brutally honest story about Alzheimer’s and the strains that it can place on family members, loved ones and friends. The film forces us to reflect and ask ourselves some uncomfortable questions. It may all sound like a rather exhausting experience, but “Still Alice” is definitely worth anyone’s time and attention.

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Ashlyn Willis

University of North Alabama

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