Imagine the loss of your memories. The familiar faces of your loved ones gradually becoming unrecognisable – your world distorting until all meaning is lost. Not a pleasant thought, but tragically real for many people. This is exactly what we see in ‘Still Alice’, where Julianne Moore portrays the damaging effects of Alzheimer’s disease in a stunning performance more than worthy of her Oscar win.
The film follows the decline of 50 year old Alice Howland (Julianne Moore), a respected professor of linguistics at Columbia University. Alice is happily married, with three grown up children. When Alice suffers a series of minor memory lapses, she consults a neurologist and is subsequently diagnosed with familial Alzheimer’s disease – a rapid onset condition that is hereditary. With the support of husband John (Alec Baldwin), Alice delivers the bad news to their children, who may now be at risk of developing the disease.
There are elements of dysfunction disrupting Alice’s perfect family veneer; for instance, sisters Anna (Kate Bosworth) and Lydia (Kristen Stewart) are diametrically opposed. Lydia is the rebel of the family who has refused a college education and is pursuing a career in acting. Alice is desperate for Lydia to have a “backup plan”, but Lydia holds her ground much to the disdain of her family, because acting simply makes her happy. Kristen Stewart delivers an outstanding performance as Lydia and is the knockout surprise in this film. Dreary Bella from the Twilight Saga is gone – Stewart has matured into a strong woman who knows how to hold herself in a weighty role. While Julianne Moore absolutely deserved the Academy Award for her outstanding performance as Alice, it’s disappointing that Kristen Stewart wasn’t nominated for best supporting actress because she really deserved more recognition.
‘Still Alice’ is a sensitive and well-researched screen adaptation of Lisa Genova’s 2007 novel and shows the devastation that Alzheimer’s disease inflicts on an individual and their family. The film is co-written and co-directed by Wash Westmoreland and the late Richard Glatzer. Given the subject matter of the film, ‘Still Alice’ avoids being over-sentimental whilst maintaining the elements of a beautifully constructed film, with some remarkably poignant moments as we witness the heartbreaking deterioration of Alice’s mental state. The film elicits an emotional response from the audience through the camerawork, which uses frequent close-ups of Alice and captures her confusion, anger and despair as she gradually loses all sense of who she is.
The cinematography, from French cinema veteran Denis Lenoir, is heartwarmingly poetic in the way it highlights nature and the changing seasons to indicate the passing of time. A family break at the summerhouse by the sea, treats us to a visual feast of the ocean and vast landscapes that contrast with the diminishing interiority of Alice and her condition. Westmoreland and Glatzer are avid fans of French Cinema and together they have produced a film which exhibits all the best qualities of this movement, successfully marrying restraint with excess through the film’s imagery and dialogue. The narrative is surprisingly linear with just a couple of references to Alice’s childhood, by means of old film footage. Through this method, we are sufficiently engaged by Alice in the here and now whilst empathising with the person that came before her decline. We are voyeurs observing her deterioration and the impact that this inflicts on her family as they struggle to balance being supportive for Alice and continuing with their lives.
‘Still Alice’ is a must see film for everybody. Whilst the topic may be less appealing to some viewers because of the intense content, it’s a very revealing and educational film that accurately depicts Alzheimer’s and some of the issues surrounding the disease. It also shows Julianne Moore at the top of her game – an artist with many great film roles and performances in her portfolio and at last she has an Oscar.
DIRECTORS: WASH WESTMORELAND & RICHARD GLATZER
STARRING: JULIANNE MOORE, ALEC BALDWIN, KRISTEN STEWART, KATE BOSWORTH