Still Alice offers a devastating and intimate exploration of Alzheimer’s disease, a progressive brain disorder affecting millions of middle-aged and elderly Americans. The drama, directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, is based off the 2007 best-selling novel of the same name.
The film focuses on acclaimed linguistics professor Dr. Alice Howland, played by Julianne Moore. Early in the film, Howland, a perfectionist, unexpectedly catches herself misspelling words, forgetting family recipes and getting lost in her neighborhood. She is soon diagnosed with familial early-onset Alzheimer’s, a disorder she passes on to a daughter.
Much of the film focuses on her rapid decline and her family’s struggle to find adequate care for her. In one particularly disturbing scene, Howland finds herself in her bathroom with a bottle of pills. No scene is glamorized.
“I am very proud and feel really lucky to have been involved on this project,” Moore told entertainment trade magazine Variety after winning the Golden Globe for best actress in a drama. “I wanted to bring specificity to absolutely everything I did. I didn’t want to represent anything onscreen that I hadn’t witnessed. It’s not fair to make it up. Too many people are dealing with this disease.” Moore received an Oscar nomination in January.
To depict the disease honestly, Moore spent four months researching it. The film has been warmly received by Alzheimer’s advocates, caregivers and physicians. It is expanding to theaters across the nation.
“The attention the movie is getting is very meaningful for the more than five million people in the United States living with the disease, and the millions of caregivers, friends and family members who manage their care,” said Carrie Jackson, an Illinois Alzheimer’s advocate, author and caregiver. “Moore talked with doctors and nurses, visited nursing facilities to meet women diagnosed with early-onset, and sat in on support groups for caregivers. Still Alice addresses the totality, futility and devastation of Alzheimer’s.”
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, nearly one in six women 65 and older will be diagnosed in their lifetimes. The decline can be slow, which makes caring for loved ones suffering from the disease especially difficult. In the film, Moore loses her ability to work, clean and even wash herself.
“Alzheimer’s disease is something that people are not always willing to open up and talk about. Still Alice can start the conversation and encourage people to start speaking out about Alzheimer’s,” according to an Alzheimer’s Association statement sent to Life Matters Media. “Many people with younger-onset Alzheimer’s are in their 40s and 50s. They have families, are at the height of their careers or are even caregivers themselves when Alzheimer’s disease strikes. In the United States, it is estimated that approximately 200,000 people have early onset Alzheimer’s.”
Still Alice holds a positive 85 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a website that aggregates mainstream film critics. Many critics praise Moore’s understated performance. The National Board of Review Awards named Still Alice as one of the top ten independent films of 2014.
New York Times film critic A. O. Scott called it “a movie that addresses a nightmarish circumstance with calm, compassionate sensitivity,” due in part to Moore’s “exquisitely nuanced performance.”