I remember how excited I was to read “Still Alice” the book by Lisa Genova. Most Alzheimer’s books are written by Wives or Husbands, Sons or Daughters or some other relative who was Caregiver for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s dementia makes such an impact on the Carer’s life that it is common to want to share that experience through a book.
“Still Alice” the book was written by Neuroscientist and debut novelist Lisa Genova who researched her subject matter so well that the book became an all-time Bestseller and thrilled caregivers thirsting for more knowledge of this disease. I haven’t seen the movie, myself, but can hardly wait till I have a chance to see it.
One of our regular contributors has seen the movie and shares her Review of the Movie.
“Still Alice” The Movie Review
a Review by Beth Kelly
Who are we but a composite of our collected memories and experiences? If we lose the knowledge of those experiences, if we lose grasp on those memories, are we still ourselves?
In the film Still Alice Julianne Moore plays Alice, a middle-aged linguist, professor, mother, and wife who finds her mind succumbing to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, leading her to question if she is losing herself to the disease as well. The film (still available online as well as from platforms like DTV and CinemaNow) earned Moore her first Academy Award for Best Actress.
Alice Howland defines herself by her intelligence and the life that intelligence has given her. She’s had a brilliant career of teaching and lecturing on linguistics. She has three grown children who are each exceptional in their own way (a lawyer, a medical student on the way to becoming a doctor, an aspiring actress) and a husband who has also carved out a career in academia. So when she begins forgetting things – a word here, a name there, a class topic before a lecture – the diagnosis comes as a shock. She’s just turned 50 and still considers her brain one of her greatest assets. The thought that it might all unravel is too painful to bear.
But there’s no denying the disease. And she is not the only one to be affected by it. Her children have lives of their own, as does her husband. Putting those things to the side to take care of Alice is not in anyone’s game plan. Especially when it becomes apparent that her mental degeneration is happening much more rapidly than anyone could prepare for. As the weeks and months go by Alice forgets more and more of her life and the people in it, though she struggles to hold on to as much as she can. She fights her mind, she fights to hold on to memories, in order to keep herself from losing absolutely everything.
At one point her youngest daughter asks her what it is like to suffer through a disease like Alzheimer’s. Alice’s response is brutal but honest.
“It’s not always the same. I have good days and bad days. On my good days I can, you know, almost pass for a normal person. But on my bad days I feel like I can’t find myself. Um. I’ve always been so defined by my intellect, my language, my articulation, and now sometimes I can see the words hanging in front of me and I can’t reach them and I don’t know who I am and I don’t know what I’m going to lose next.”
Of course, in this story Alice isn’t the only one coming to terms with loss. Her husband has to accept the fact that he will lose the partner he has built his life with. At first he doesn’t want to believe the diagnosis and denies it, and it is only Alice’s anger towards him that convinces him he needs to be concerned.
Her children have to be tested to see if they carry the risk of early-onset Alzheimer’s as well, and what that could mean to their own children and spouses one day. It isn’t easy on anyone and this film takes the time to show that. It doesn’t sugar coat things.
When Alice decides she wants to opt-out later on when her memory has gone so far that she can’t remember her oldest daughter’s name, it isn’t a surprising move considering the fact that she was someone who “lived a life of the mind” as a professor (and also confessed earlier on to her husband she’d rather have cancer than deal with Alzheimer’s).
When she attempts to follow through on that plan after the disease has progressed, it is terribly sad but also very understandable. She is not a person who wants to live a life she can’t recognize or remember. But by the time she tries to take this option it is already too late for her to make that choice.
In many films, Alzheimer’s never moves beyond the background of the story. Its typically suffered by secondary characters with whom the main characters may interact with briefly before going about their lives. Or, an important character may have Alzheimer’s, but all the film shows is a fuzzy memory. In Still Alice the disease is front and center. From the moment the first symptoms show up (Alice forgets meeting new people, can’t remember words or names, and even gets lost on a campus she has been on hundreds of times before), this film attempts to give as honest and realistic a portrayal of early-onset Alzheimer’s as possible. Alice’s memory loss isn’t immediate and it does go back and forth in severity, sometimes from day to day. One minute she can hold an almost normal conversation, and the next she can’t remember where the bathroom is in her own home.
Julianne Moore shows the pain and confusion Alice feels as she deals with her degeneration in as intense and human way as possible. Sometimes she smiles, sometimes she cries, sometimes she gets angry and yells at whoever will listen. She uses technology like her phone to help her remember important dates, locations and people, but it isn’t always enough. As time passes and the disease progresses she grows quieter, more childlike, needing a caregiver and her youngest daughter to watch over her every moment.
Still Alice is a beautiful, tragic, but ultimately hopeful film. Not because it has a fairytale happy ending, but because even in the end, when she can remember very little of the life she has led or the people that have filled it, Alice can remember one important, singular truth. Her youngest daughter asks, after reading her a passage from a play, what the passage was about. And Alice’s only response is “love.” It was about love. Her memories and her life and the people who populated it, all of the actions she took and the places she went, everything that made up the self she was so desperate to hold on to. In the end, it was all about love.