Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Lisa Genova, Still Alice is centred on renowned linguistics professor Alice Howland (Julianne Moore). At the age of 50, she is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
And if the notion of a woman specialising in language and communication slowly losing her words is too on the nose, the story and its portrayal of the disease never is.
Questions of memory and identity come to the fore and in turn make us question our notions of ourselves: What does it mean to literally lose your mind? What does it do to the people you love the most? And what happens when you lose your very sense of self?
For Alice, it begins gradually at first: A forgotten appointment here, a speech halted in mid-sentence there. “It’s like something just drops out under me,” says Alice.
It all amounts to heartbreak by inches, as if the layers that make up Alice are being stripped away one by one. It’s difficult to disagree when she declares: “I wish I had cancer. I wouldn’t feel so ashamed.”
Her unwillingness to attend a dinner party for fear of being unable to recognise friends, the blind panic that sets in when she is suddenly unable to recall where she is — we cannot help but watch and imagine: How would I cope if I were her?
It’s a story that always feels personal, without resorting to preachiness or histrionics. This is all down to Moore, who makes it terribly easy to empathise with Alice, as you feel every bit of her frustration and anger.
As with any form of disease or distress, the biggest impact is on the caregiver, and this is where the movie falls somewhat short.
Alice’s husband John (an underused Alec Baldwin) and her three children are always in the picture, but seem somewhat distant. It always feels as if more could be said about their own struggles, considering how important Alice is to them.
Only the relationship with her youngest daughter, the angsty and estranged Lydia (a – surprise, surprise – perpetually frowning Kristen Stewart), is properly explored. Stewart displays a surprising tenderness, playing well off the veteran Moore.
Somewhere at the halfway mark, Alice gives a speech that could well be spoken by every single Alzheimer’s sufferer: “On my bad days, I feel like I can’t find myself…I don’t know what I’m going to lose next,” she says.
In the end, what Alice longs for is what all of us want, whether we have the disease or no: Comfort, assurance and most of all, dignity.
Still Alice is playing in cinemas now. Tell us what you think of the movie!