Losing Memory, Language, and Self
The lights come up and I’m still sitting there looking at the screen as name after name rolls up and off the screen. I am still infatuated, amazed, and heartbroken after the 100-minute journey I’ve just taken.
This film is based on Lisa Genova’s New York Times bestselling book of the same name. Written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, the film stars Julianne Moore as Columbia professor Alice Howland, who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 50. Moore was awarded a Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice Movie Award, and 15 other titles along with dozens of nominations, including an Academy Award (the winner will be announced this week) for her role as protagonist Alice.
The audience is welcomed to Alice’s world with a rapid establishment of her fast-paced life. She is a mother of three, a reputable linguistics professor at Columbia University and adored wife to her husband, played by Alec Baldwin. Kristen Stewart plays the youngest of the three children. Infamous for her role as the heroine Bella Swan in the Twilight Saga, Stewart provides a change of pace with her empathetic and driven performance.
Still Alice explores themes of personal identity and how loss of language equates to loss of the individual. During the introductory scenes Alice gives a lecture on early childhood language development. She emphasizes that words and self-expression shape a person’s identity. The ability to effectively use language helps a person gain respect and understanding. This seems like an ordinary comment for a linguistics professor to make, but it is later evident that this speech foreshadows Alice’s identity struggle throughout the film: Alzheimer’s patients gradually lose the ability to remember, then eventually the ability to speak words.
The compelling cast creates strong relationships that hold throughout the film. The two actresses effect a believable, tension-filled bond. The elder (Kate Bosworth) tries to stifle the opinions and perceived wrongdoings of the younger (Stewart); the younger then rebels to make her voice heard. This is apparent when the eldest encourages her mom to relax and not worry about trying to remember, while the youngest child encourages active memory activity.
Baldwin and Moore change from a power duo living in New York into needy and heartbroken individuals. Even Alice’s neurologist (Stephen Kunken) brings a stimulating blend of sympathy and genuine respect that highlights the difference between who Alice is at the beginning of the movie and who she can expect to become.
In addition to a strong cast, the cinematography strengthens the audiences’ personal connection to Alice. With frequent shots from behind the character, we see what she sees, and become a step closer to feeling what she feels. We watch as the world turns in and out of focus with Alice’s varying degrees of awareness. The lens reveals what we cannot see, and strengthens our desire to hold on to everything that is still clear to us.
Still Alice reveals the struggles that Alzheimer’s brings to patients and their relatives, and believably illustrates how different people cope with tragedy in general. After watching the movie, I find myself appreciating my coherent thoughts and reveling in my awareness of the world around me. This is a powerful and emotional movie—one that, as long as I have all my faculties in order, won’t be forgotten.