Still Alice

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Two weeks after the Academy Awards, arriving now in UK cinemas is the film that got Julianne Moore a win in the Best Actress category. I am pleased that Moore got the statuette, she certainly deserves it, and I am glad of the publicity the movie will now get but actually the Oscar attention is the least important thing about it. This picture is so much more important than awards.

I was always going to respond strongly to this film, having quite recently lost a parent to Alzheimer’s. Even allowing for that though it is notable how quickly I forgot I was viewing a performance. I instantly became drawn in and what I was watching was not an actor but a real person going through a heartbreaking and scary experience.

Conversely, in many respects the film does show a Hollywood version of dementia. Stricken protagonist Alice is an internationally respected linguistics professor from Columbia University. She is ten to twenty years younger than most Alzheimer’s sufferers, has a very rare form of the disease and is surrounded by an impossibly beautiful family.

There is also an argument that by concentrating on someone in their fifties the film ignores the majority of people who are typically hit by the illness. Most of this though was decided when accomplished neuroscientist Lisa Genova turned author and wrote the book and Moore and her writer/directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland have taken the source material and made it universal.

There have been films about dementia before, notably Away From Her and Iris, but this does something that I’ve not seen before. It gives those who struggle with the disease a voice. Throughout the film everything focuses on Alice and you begin to get a real idea of what it is like to face slowly losing your mind, your memories and your character. This is most obvious in a scene where Alice gives a talk at an Alzheimer’s charity event and her words are a fantastic movingly believable and real articulation of what she is experiencing. It is the highlight of the movie and one of the best accounts of Alzheimer’s I have come across. The speech is included in full at the end of this review.

This concentration on Alice means the film raises awareness of the disease in a particular and pertinent manner and for this I cannot applaud and thank it enough. In my opinion this makes Still Alice one of the most important films I have ever seen and I think everyone should see it too.

Is this one for the kids?

Still Alice is a 12A and while it is heartbreaking in places it is not a hard film to watch. Certainly if you compare it to The Fault in Our Stars, in which teenagers live with cancer, it is not as deliberately raw. There are clearly some upsetting moments but actually when I say everyone should see this film I include a teenage audience in that. Alzheimer’s is a tragic but prevalent disease and the more people who can begin to understand it the better.

The Ripley Factor:

Although the film does centre around its leading lady you do also see the effect her illness has on those around her. Alongside Alec Baldwin, who gives a good performance as Alice’s husband John, are Kate Bosworth and Kristen Stewart as their two daughters. Stewart is particularly strong and between her and Julianne Moore the film presents women who are brave, flawed, capable, loving and inspiring.

…………

Following here is the speech that Alice gives in the film. If you going to see the film then do not read any further because it works best in context but if you are not going to get the opportunity then it is worth a look now.

The poet Elizabeth Bishop once wrote: ‘the Art of Losing isn’t hard to master: so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster.’ I’m not a poet, I am a person living with Early Onset Alzheimer’s, and as that person I find myself learning the art of losing every day. Losing my bearings, losing objects, losing sleep, but mostly losing memories.

All my life I’ve accumulated memories – they’ve become, in a way, my most precious possessions. The night I met my husband, the first time I held my textbook in my hands. Having children, making friends, traveling the world. Everything I accumulated in life, everything I’ve worked so hard for – now all that is being ripped away. As you can imagine, or as you know, this is hell. But it gets worse. Who can take us seriously when we are so far from who we once were? Our strange behaviour and fumbled sentences change other’s perception of us and our perception of ourselves. We become ridiculous, incapable, comic. But this is not who we are, this is our disease. And like any disease it has a cause, it has a progression, and it could have a cure.

My greatest wish is that my children, our children – the next generation – do not have to face what I am facing. But for the time being, I’m still alive. I know I’m alive. I have people I love dearly. I have things I want to do with my life. I rail against myself for not being able to remember things – but I still have moments in the day of pure happiness and joy. And please do not think that I am suffering. I am not suffering. I am struggling. Struggling to be part of things, to stay connected to whom I was once. So, ‘live in the moment’ I tell myself. It’s really all I can do, live in the moment. And not beat myself up too much… and not beat myself up too much for mastering the art of losing.

One thing I will try to hold onto though is the memory of speaking here today. It will go, I know it will. It may be gone by tomorrow. But it means so much to be talking here, today, like my old ambitious self who was so fascinated by communication.

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