Arts, Movies

Julianne Moore Stuns As Alzheimer Patient in ‘Still Alice’

Imagine being unable to remember your spouse or children’s names, your favorite pastimes, passions and accomplishments, even where you are in space and time. You become a mere shell of your former self, as your inner world collapses and panic ensues.

That’s what it feels like to live with Alzheimer’s disease. That pain is exactly what Julianne Moore so beautifully captures in Still Alice, the story of a renowned linguistics professor at Columbia University who finds herself faced with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Alice Howland’s story is made even more tragic by the fact that she has a very rare form of the disease—it’s familial, meaning her children may suffer the same fate. Alice’s picture-perfect world is flipped upside down and now so are her children’s.  Based on Lisa Genova’s novel and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, this is a movie that relates a horrific suffering in an incredibly compassionate way.

Julianne Moore deserves all the praise she’s bound to receive for this role. There isn’t much time spent developing secondary characters, but Moore’s tears and heartache make up strongly for lost support. It’s clear from the start that this is Alice’s story. The other characters, although strong actors (Alec Baldwin and Kate Bosworth), are really just there to develop a scene—Dr. Alice Howland and Dr. John Howland and their three beautiful children with impressive law and medical degrees. A seamless, privileged life that seems to show just how much a disease like this can ravage a perfect picture.

We share in Alice’s terrifying journey from the start—when she finds herself unable to finish her sentence during a lecture at UCLA, and then gets lost on a jog through the familiar campus a few days later. At this point, she knows something is up, and she quickly schedules an appointment with a neurologist. Soon after, Alice is diagnosed and we watch her shockingly rapid decline. A decline that is muddled and hard to put a time frame on, making it all the more real to the viewer.

Lydia (Kristen Stewart), Alice’s youngest daughter, is an actress who chose to forgo college in order to pursue her passion—a choice that she and her mother have always disagreed on. However, Lydia and her mother find their relationship rekindled once Alice is diagnosed. It’s soon clear who the real stars of this film are—Julianne Moore and Kristen Stewart. They keep this piece honest.

“Kristen Stewart?” you’re probably thinking. Well, the Twilight Saga does not really do her justice in comparison to this role. The mother-daughter chemistry between her and Moore is very present on screen, and makes their relationship incredibly honest and authentic. Lydia is with her mother throughout the decline, displaying bravery where her “perfect” siblings fall short. The strides that the pair make in rekindling their relationship culminate in one final scene, in which Lydia reads a passage from “Angels in America” to Alice:

“Souls were rising, from the earth far below, souls of the dead, of people who had perished, from famine, from war, from the plague, and they floated up, like skydivers in reverse, limbs all akimbo, wheeling and spinning. And the souls of these departed joined hands, clasped ankles, and formed a web, a great net of souls, and the souls were three-atom oxygen molecules of the stuff of ozone, and the outer rim absorbed them and was repaired. Nothing’s lost forever. In this world, there’s a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead.”

Alice is unable to express her feelings or to explain what the passage was about, but her daughter understands her reaction as that of love and happiness and a fleeting glimpse of a woman who is still Alice, a woman who is still alive.

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December 8, 2014