Arts & CultureFilm & TV

Review: 'Still Alice' depicts Alzheimer's through the eyes of the afflicted

For an eye-opening and humanizing perspective on a disease that you think you’re familiar with, Still Alice is the film to go see.

The novel-turned-film, which was released into theatres on Jan. 16, addresses a condition that is so often a minor part of films and left unanalyzed in terms of its effects. This is the familiar condition of Alzheimer’s.

Too often, Alzheimer’s is exploited as a cinematic plot device and the real-life effects it causes overlooked. The film, released on Jan. 16 and based on the novel by Ph.D. neurscientist Lisa Genova, was inspired by Genova’s witnessing of her grandmother deteriorate from Alzheimer’s disease; Still Alice frames the condition by showing you the perspective of someone with early-onset Alzheimer’s.

At barely 50 years old, Alice Howland (played by Julianne Moore) is an intelligent, highly self-motivated linguistics professor at Columbia University. She has everything that she has worked for: a successful career and a beautiful, well-off family living in New York City. But after frequently forgetting words while giving lectures and getting lost while running in her own neighborhood, Alice begins to feel that something is wrong with her brain. One night, she tells her husband in tears, “I know what I’m feeling. It feels like my brain is fucking dying and everything I’ve worked for my entire life is going.” Several brain scans and meetings with a neurologist later, Alice is diagnosed with a very rare case of early-onset Alzheimer’s.

We see Alice not only begin to lose her memory, but her confidence and sense of dignity as well. The things that have always defined her as a person – including her intellect and ability to communicate – have been ripped out from under her.

This film provides a inside look at what it’s like to be Alice – to forget important appointments and important people and be viewed as rude or ignorant because of it, to be the butt of the joke when you’re confused about your surroundings, or to be spoken about as if you’re not standing right there.

The real tearjerker is a scene in which she delivers a speech to the Alzheimer’s Association while she is still barely in the condition to do so. She speaks of the embarrassment and shame she feels, but also how good it feels to be in front of everyone, doing something that she had always done so well. It’s a remarkable example of Moore’s inimitable potency as an actress. Julianne Moore’s performance in this film is truly flawless. She captures her character seamlessly from beginning to end — from bright, confident professor, all the way through to confused and barely able to speak. More importantly, Moore’s way of conveying such a relatable character is what makes this film so heart wrenching.

As Alice’s brain slowly degenerates, her family struggles with how to care for her and, at the same time, move forward with their own lives. Alice was always hyper-productive, busy and involved, and raised her family to be the same way. But gradually, her condition becomes a familial burden. No one expects to have to take care of their mother or wife as if she’s elderly when she’s only fifty years old. Be warned: This movie does not end with warm and fuzzy feelings, but it is an important and thought-provoking story that will especially resonate with those who have loved ones with Alzheimer’s.

Follow Lindsay McWilliams on Twitter @lindsaymacwill

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Lindsay McWilliams

Lindsay McWilliams