Reviews

'Still Alice' Is the Story of a Mind in Search for Words and Self

Julianne Moore's luminous performance as a woman with early onset Alzheimer's reveals how the disease makes it difficult to find oneself.


Still Alice

Director: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
Cast: Julianne Moore, Kristen Stewart, Alec Baldwin, Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish, Shane McRae, Stephen Kunken
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Year: 2014
UK date: 2015-01-16 (General release)
US date: 2015-01-16 (Limited release)
Website

More than once, the camera follows Alice (Julianne Moore) in Still Alice. It walks along behind her in a university hallway, lockers lining the walls. It follows her she goes for a run in New York City, the sidewalk stretching before her. It follows her as she makes her way down the stairs in her own Upper West Side home, on her way to the bathroom. In these and other moments, the camera hovers behind Alice, her red hair bobbing in frame, her slender figure in motion, increasingly hesitant.

At first she strides confidently, en route to a lecture she's delivering at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Back home, jogging near Columbia, where she's a renowned professor of linguistics, Alice loses her way, and the camera stops wither, then circles her as she stands, daunted, face flushed, breathing heavy. It's at this point, just a few minutes into the movie, that you're aware -- both before and along with Alice -- that something is very wrong. As many viewers know ahead of time, she's afflicted with early onset Alzheimer's, a terrible disease in any circumstance, and poetically, tragically cruel for her, a specialist in communication who prides herself, even defines herself, by her articulation, her intellect, and, of course, her memory.

That she is unable to remember where she is, or, in yet another instance, when she is unable to find the bathroom in her own home, the camera keeps a bit of distance, observing as she descends the stairway, pauses, opens a couple of doors. When her husband John (Alec Baldwin) finds her, she's stopped, frozen. The camera pans down as if with John's view, to see that she's wet herself. A cut back to her face shows it wet and red, lost again, in another way.

The losses with which Alice struggles throughout Still Alice have as much to do with her relationships, so profoundly predicated on memories. She has three adult children, worried and devoted according to their own capacities: her oldest, Anna (Kate Bosworth), is distracted by her new pregnancy with twins, vaguely sweet Tom (Hunter Parrish) seems mostly to follow her lead, and the independent, stubborn child, Lydia (Kristen Stewart), who makes her way back from California where she's pursuing an acting career, is a little predictably the one who most understands, who forgives and gives to her, a roiling font of generosity, first by Facetime, and then, increasingly, face to face.

Alice's face, at first, reveals infinitely, and the film makes the most of Moore's luminous pallor, focusing only on her during an early consultation with her neurologist (Stephen Kunken), or in a mirror that provides for multiple reflections (a striking if overstated set of images) .As Alice's face becomes more opaque, as she's harder to read, her face shows that too, her search for a response, her effort to perform correctly, to know where she is and who she is. Her changing relationships -- with the kids and John, with colleagues at school and her students -- initially form new memories, but these are memories that, as Alice points out ruefully and sometimes gratefully, she will lose almost instantly.

The film, however, preserves these new memories, as well as others, for you. You see home movie footage, Alice and her sister as children, red-headed and blond, the grain approximating 8mm (code for "memory" in movies), the piano tinkly. You see students, framed at a distance, whispering about her in the lecture hall. You see her department chair, gazing sadly into the camera and so, her eyes, expressing his condolences. And you see a family discussion of what to do, at a table a full two rooms away from Alice: as they talk, small in the distance, the back of her head large, taking up most of the shot, still and still, very red-headed.

While Still Alice occasionally overstates, relies on its melancholy soundtrack or those home movie-style flashbacks, it can also be delicate, even brilliant. In this moment, when the back of Alice's head is at once evocative and elusive, you might imagine what she's seeing, what she's thinking, what she's imagining. Your own work here is key, as your fear matches hers. When at last Lydia asks Alice to describe what she feels, to say "what it's like," she has an answer, for you: "On bad days," she says, "I feel like I can't find myself. I've always been so defined by my intellect, my language, my articulation, and now sometimes, I can see the words hanging in front of me and I can't reach them and I don't know who I am and I don't know what I'm going to lose next." If these words are too perfect, written and performed by those who can still find words, they're also approximate, and hang in front of you, signs of what you can only imagine.

6
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.