Two reasons to see this film: Julian Moore and the book by Lisa Genova. While there’s no shortage in literature or film about Alzheimer’s disease, few stories can claim to do what Lisa Genova accomplished in her novel Still Alice, which tells the tale from the perspective of the disease’s victim. The movie adaptation, by directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, retains this aspect while supplanting the usual sentimentality of “Alzheimer’s films” with a clear-eyed honesty. Still Alice is heartbreaking but it doesn’t earn its tears through easy emotional manipulation.
The film’s highlight (for me at least) is the performance of Oscar-nominated Julianne Moore, whose turn as Dr. Alice Howland captures all the nuances of a brilliant woman slowly losing herself. Moore plays the part without histrionics; it’s a controlled, contained portrayal that can rival her performance in The Hours.
I already knew the story but the movie breathes new life into the story, which slowly unfolds visually, in Julian Moore’s own rendition and interpretation of Alice Howland, a professor of cognitive linguistics at Columbia at the time she began to be afflicted with memory lapses, whose life has always been defined by her intellect and people’s respect for her.
The downhill progression begins slowly—and it’s very poignant to watch: she stumbles over words she would normally be able to retrieve without a problem, becomes disoriented while out jogging, and fails to remember meeting her son’s girlfriend. The diagnosis is ominous: early onset Alzheimer’s, a rare genetic version of the disease. The majority of the film chronicles the Alice’s deterioration as the pernicious influence of the condition chips away at her memories, intelligence, and identity.
I am simply in awe of Alice’s struggle—the struggle to make sense of her surroundings, struggle to retain her dignity. I like how the director takes us into Alice’s mind and projects her changing circumstances through her eyes. I can’t help wonder which is worse: remembers things she could do but no longer has the capacity to achieve or forget everything? The final scene is poignant, also unbearably poignant but beautiful. The film keeps pretty much the entire audience riveted in their seat for the entire 1 hour and 4 minutes.