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Audrey Kupferberg: Still Alice

Lisa Genova’s ground-breaking novel Still Alice about a fifty-year-old college professor who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease is now a film.  And what a fine film it is!

Avoiding the many melodramatic clichés that fill cinematic tales of women who suffer from debilitating and fatal diseases, Still Alice is presented with grace and intelligence.

Fictional Columbia University linguistics professor Alice Howland is at the center of the story, and she is played with delicacy and nobility by Julianne Moore whose chances for an Oscar this year are very good.  We see her healthy and fit, interacting with her family and lecturing with confidence and intelligence.  Then comes the journey from occasional memory loss and then the downward spiral into much greater loss—situations which result in fear, embarrassment, humiliation, and absolute devastation. 

Throughout, Julianne Moore inhabits Alice body and soul.  There are scenes of tears, but the tears are not sensationalized.  There is a brief but unforgettable scene of Alice lost in her own home, trying to find the bathroom door.  The panic is there and the viewer feels her frenzy, but the moment is not over-sold to the viewer as so many films have done.  There is no florid Max Steiner music score to bring tears to our eyes, no stark close-up of Alice with her eyes popping out.  Still Alice is a modern kind of film.  It is grounded in realism, not overwrought with emotion.   A key to the nature of this film’s style of presentation is in one of Alice’s lines of dialog.  She states that she is “struggling, not suffering,” and that is how we witness her predicament.

In addition to Moore, the performances of two actors should be noted.  Alec Baldwin plays the part of Alice’s husband, a doctor who loves his wife, family and career.  Baldwin downplays the role so that Alice will always be the center of attention.  He shows tenderness and dignity and keeps to a supporting position.  Equally effective is Kristen Stewart in the role of Alice’s caring younger daughter.  Stewart, at the age of twenty-five, should be—and is—looking beyond the Twilight series.

Another very modern aspect of Still Alice is the depiction of her nuclear family.  They are good and loving people, but they are not always harmonious with one another.  They care very deeply for Alice but have busy lives to lead, career ladders to climb, their own families to attend.

Still Alice gives us a picture of an accomplished modern woman in a medical battle that she cannot win.  She is losing her life and herself.  And she only is age fifty.  No tools of classic melodrama are needed to communicate such a story.  The anguish and utter hopelessness are evident.  I salute the cast and off-screen filmmakers of Still Alice for having the intelligence and humanity to translate Lisa Genova’s novel so effectively

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