We’d like to believe that we are more than the sum of our experiences, connections and memories. Ideally, there is something extra and irrevocable that makes us who we are, even when Alzheimer’s disease has already taken everything else away. The ravages of the disease take away everything, even a person’s autonomy, so what then is left? Still Alice doesn’t have an answer, but there’s a reason for it.
Alice (Julianne Moore) just turned 50, but is still in peak physical condition. She is a professor at a prestigious university, a mother of three and a wife to an equally ambitious man doctor, John (Alec Baldwin). We know that wine is one of the few things that get better with age. Memory isn’t one of them. At 50, Alice is starting to notice that she is becoming more forgetful and having a hard time recalling things and remembering words. To everyone else it appear normal, but after a diagnosis, she realize it is only the beginning of a real problem. Early onset Alzheimer’s is the problem, and it’s genetic. If her mother and sister hadn’t died in a car crash when she was young, she would have known about her inherited condition earlier. Now she has to worry about her two daughters, Anna (Kate Bosworth) and Lydia (Kristen Stewart), who have an almost 100% chance of getting the disease, and her son Tom (Hunter Parrish), who has a very low chance of getting it.
Completely immersed in routine and the familiarity of her surrounds, she has been able to cope with her condition. No matter how many safeguards or contingencies she puts into place, she cannot outrun the already rampant disease. We see her hastened descent in the dark recesses of this disease. Time fades away. In the blink of an eye, months have passed, adding to the confusion inherent in Alzheimer’s. After her mind has been ravaged, and she is reduced to a shell of her former self with brief moments of semi-lucidity, is she really still Alice?
Julianne Moore shows us that she is still in her prime, playing to every subtle nuance of the degenerative disease with precision and respect. Her character earns our respect and sympathy not through over-exaggerated examples of the disease’s effects, but through understated sentiment. Kristen Stewart’s performance is also noteworthy, making it one of her best in the past year, and maybe even longer than that. This film is wholly character driven and at no point do you feel forced or coerced into feelings of empathy; everything comes off as genuine, which is the film’s greatest strength. This completely makes up for the film’s biggest shortcoming, and that would be the unremarkable visual style.
Still Alice, based on the novel of the same name by Lisa Genova, is more of a question than a statement. When our mind starts to betray us, taking away our memories, our experiences and even our independence, are really still the person we used to be? Are we still Alice? Julianne Moore’s inspired performance may sway you one way or the other on the topic, but ultimately leaves it open-ended. Aside from the great performance, it’s earnest sincerity elevates what could easily come off as a made-for-tv Lifetime film. Instead, it leaves you understanding what going through that type of situation feels like, even if you’ve been fortunate enough not to have witnessed Alzheimer’s effect first hand.
RATING: ★★★★★★★★(8/10 stars)
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