Julianne Moore’s recent Academy Award win has been marked as overdue. Still Alice, the relatively low-key family drama depicting the rapid decline of a linguistic academic’s memory, ability, and independence following her diagnosis with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, was Moore’s fifth nomination and first win.
Yet, as subtle and cinematically traditional as the film may be, Moore’s poignant, raw performance proves her Oscar well-deserved, however late the accolade.
Adapted from the novel by Lisa Genova, Still Alice depicts the title character’s heart-breaking mental decline following her premature diagnosis.
Anyone with experience of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s will recognise the familiar signs of the illness: the sporadic lapses in memory and the gradual decline of vocabulary (all the more demoralizing due to Alice’s career). However, the narrative does not centre around the experience of those close to her but on Alice herself.
The film’s focus on Alice’s personal experiences gives insight into the confusion and terror which Alzheimer’s generates; getting lost on a routine run or blanking out during a lecture are amongst a series of instances which contribute to Alice’s mounting fear for her own well-being.
While family support and personal endurance are amongst the focuses of the film, Still Alice does not shy away from exploring the stigma attached to mental health problems. One of the most insightful and unnerving scenes comes when Alice informs her husband (played by Alec Baldwin) that she wishes she had cancer. Cancer, she declares, is not shameful; when you have cancer people wear ribbons for you and sympathise with your altered behaviour – however misappropriated her declaration may be, her frustration is a telling indication of the cultural divide we still create between physical illness and that of the mind.
Instead, Alice feels trapped – a metaphor which becomes literal as the film progresses and her detachment from her own being increasingly internalises her thoughts preventing her from contributing to conversation. Indeed, it is the portrayal of Alice’s isolation and dismemberment from her family which are the film’s most effective and heart-breaking assets.
[Tara Fitzpatrick – @TFitzpatrick25]