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As Memories Fade: Still Alice

Updated on April 2, 2015

At the age of fifty, Alice Howland should be years away from retirement. She's a renowned linguistics professor at Columbia University, and has spoken all over the world about the work she has done in her field. She starts to experience memory lapses, though, that go beyond the norm for people her age. In Still Alice, Alice (Julianne Moore) consults a neurologist about her experiences. The doctor conducts tests, and diagnoses Alice with early onset Alzheimer's Disease. As she lives with the disease, she opens up to her family gradually. First, she tells her husband John (Alec Baldwin), who also teaches at Columbia. At a Thanksgiving dinner with her adult children, the children notice a thing or two amiss with their mother.

Alice soon breaks the news to them. Her son, Tom (Hunter Parrish), has already been divorced, but has begun to see someone new. Her older daughter, Anna (Kate Bosworth), after years of trying, has learned that she and her husband are about to become parents to twins. Her younger daughter, Lydia (Kristen Stewart), lives in Los Angeles, where she pursues acting and tries to make a name for herself. As she deals with the memory impairment, she learns that her form of Alzheimer's is hereditary. Tom and Anna get tested to see of they're carriers, with varying results. Lydia, however, doesn't want to know, though mother and daughter stay in touch more. Alice also makes some plans for a point in the future. While she must leave teaching, she becomes an advocate for others like herself. As the disease progresses, John and Lydia start to make other plans that involve major changes, but still include making sure that Alice will still have sufficient care.

Still Alice, based on a novel by Lisa Genova, realistically shows the fight and inevitable downturn of a woman who knows all of her memories will go day by day. Spouses Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, who directed and adapted Genova's novel to the screen, take viewers through Alice's impairment step by step. At first, Alice loses her place during a lecture. Then she forgets a recipe she'd done many times. Alice tries to cover, but that gradually becomes a losing battle. Through every loss, Alice keeps fighting to maintain some part of the person she had been before her affliction. Glatzer and Westmoreland keep part of their focus on some of the good things, like Alice's first visit with her grandchildren. The one issue involves the plans Alice made and documented for herself just after her diagnosis. While I understand her need for secrecy, I wonder how John didn't get any hint of this plan. The directors deftly avoid melodrama while providing an even-handed and dignified account of Alice's decline.

Moore perfectly captures Alice, who never stops wanting to be there in any way she can for her family. All the while, she fades away, one forgotten detail at a time. During her advocacy period, she delivers a speech with the aid of a highlighter so she won't lose her place. Her doctor visits show how much her memory deteriorates over time. She maintains the fight to be, even as her mind goes. Baldwin delivers a solid performance as a husband who deals with Alice's decline with as much support as he can, but also must maintain his work demands. I'm not a big fan of either Stewart or Bosworth, but here, they make a positive mark as siblings who have to make crucial decisions concerning what they are going to do in their lives.

Every person realizes that their lives had a beginning, and will have an end. Alice Howland experiences one of the most unkind ways a person heads toward the end. Her body continues to function, but she starts to lose the knowledge and memories of a once highly-functioning brain. Still Alice makes viewers feel the sort of life that Alice and her loved ones live through as time alters her. The road to the end grows sadder day by day, but Alice Howland wants to fight until the fight is finally taken away from her.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Still Alice 3.5 stars. Alzheimer's has arrived, but Alice Howland has not left.


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