It’s been over a month since Julianne Moore walked away with the Best Actress Academy Award for Still Alice; it seems an age ago. Here in the UK we only got to see her winning portrayal of a mother, professor and wife – who is suddenly struck by early onset Alzheimer’s disease – a week ago. It’s a real shame that Still Alice took so long to reach our shores because the screens are now only 20% full for this astonishing depiction of the complex types of suffering, both mental and emotional, that come with something as devastating as a diagnosis like this. Alice has always been defined by her language and her communication. A triumphant linguistics professor at Columbia University, with a ferocious attitude towards all aspects of her life, Alice is defiant, opinionated and certain. She is diagnosed with a rare type of Alzheimer’s disease a third of the way through the movie, whilst still in her fifties. Either side of the diagnosis is a woman trying to hold herself together. At the beginning of Still Alice, our protagonist tries to process the disintegrations she is experiencing, on her own. In the film’s final two thirds we follow Alice and her family through the ways that her condition affects and distorts her perception, confidence and attitude. Still Alice is as much about family, commitment, anger and betrayal as it is about illness. Alice is betrayed by her own body and – as a result – she is helplessly trying to cope with the painfully inevitable. When we hear her logically admit she wishes she had cancer, we’re struck by this film’s first bitterly sad moment which only progresses, swamping you in misery and emotion. I was too sad to really cry – that says a lot about the power, courage and sincerity of Still Alice.
Of course, this is Moore’s movie. She has always been a brave and versatile actress but here she undergoes an astonishing and tragic transformation in just 100 minutes. Moore never shies away from rawness; she’s an astounding talent who continues to challenge herself and the audience. Alec Baldwin is subtle and believable as a loving husband stuck in a place of possible denial and depression. His love for his wife ensues but he refuses to hide away from the honesty of his character’s difficulties with the unwelcome situation. Kristen Stewart shrugs off her Twilight reputation for good by delving into a complex performance as a daughter whose tepid relationship with her mother is tested and salvaged through an illness that highlights the value of appreciation and living in the moment. Each family member has their own way of processing what is happening to their loved one and nobody’s reaction is lingered upon. Still Alice takes us inside a bitterly unfair situation and allows its characters to deal with things in their own imperfect ways. Alice is a professor more than she is a patient. In her own words, she is struggling not suffering. The suffering comes with the emotion of the situation. In a world where we prepare to lose our loved ones but never ourselves, Still Alice eloquently deals with the anguish of time running out and the awful awareness of the unstoppable unawareness that will soon fall. Still Alice addresses Alzheimer’s patients with the respect and integrity they deserve.
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