Julianne Moore is astounding in the harrowing Still Alice
‘Still Alice’ is hard to watch, although Julianne Moore gives one of the year’s best performances.
Growing older isn’t necessarily terrible. You can learn new things, live through new experiences, and even achieve what you never could as a younger person. You may even get a bit of wisdom. But there’s one 100% downside — getting older means your body is slowly falling apart. You might lose control of limbs or speech or even thought. It can be nothing or it can be everything. As people, we rely on our memory, unreliable as it may be (see Memento for words on this concept). People sometimes do this intentionally, taking drugs or meditating, trying to lose themselves in nothingness. But when you cannot control your own mind, it can be the most frustrating thing possible. And potentially the most destructive.
Still Alice is based on the novel of the same name, from writing/directing pair Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. Interestingly enough, in 2011 Glatzer was diagnosed with ALS (also called Lou Gehrig’s disease), so there was real life inspiration to draw from. Julianne Moore plays Alice, a linguistics professor (a bitter irony) with a happy marriage to her husband (Alec Baldwin), and three kids of varying degrees of closeness. There’s her eldest Anna (Kate Bosworth) a well put together lawyer, middle child med student son (Hunter Parrish), and Lydia (Kristen Stewart), who’s an aspiring actress. But suddenly Alice is having difficulty with her memory and her words, and the worst is revealed: she has developed a form of early onset Alzheimer’s, and that’s not even the worst part. It’s also genetic, which means any of her kids may be susceptible.
There is an open question here, which is how much drama one can stand to watch. If you can’t handle people in pain, I’d avoid this movie. But if not…
The rest of the movie is to show the slow deterioration of Alice and how horrible it is for everyone. Perfectionist Anna can’t take the pain of losing her mom right in front of her, and Lydia, always the least like her mother, can’t help but lash out. And of course, Alice’s husband is suffering watching the love of his life slowly disappear. Thus begins an entrancing, horrifying, magnetic performance from Julianne Moore. She’s truly phenomenal here, easily showing off frustration and fear, pain and confusion. It’s not a movie to see when you want to feel great about life, but it is honest with the message it’s saying, which is simple enough: Losing your mind sucks. Alec Baldwin is fine here, subtle enough but I feel he’s better as a comedic performer. I actually really liked Kristen Stewart, being one of the few people who’s only seen in her non-Twilight movies (like Adventureland or On the Road).
She was good, letting you feel the pain and horror too, worrying about her mother but also her own future; would she be at risk too? I felt sad and empty after seeing this movie, but I’m not sad I watched it. Sometimes art can tell truth about pain, and that’s what Still Alice does brilliantly. It may not be the best movie on paper, but Julianne Moore makes it great.