Still Alice (2014)

(On Cable TV, March 2016) I watched this film with some reluctance: While Julianne Moore got stellar reviews for her role in this film, seeing a sympathetic character gradually disappear under the progression of Alzheimer’s disease isn’t exactly a cheerful topic for light moviegoing. As Still Alice inevitably walks toward a merciless conclusion, I wondered how it would manage to end gracefully without delving too deep into despair. It’s not an easy movie to watch: From the first moments, Moore’s character is established as someone with everything to lose from early dementia: She’s an intellectual, a mother, a woman who’s lived life fully and has earned her comfort. But when he’s diagnosed with a rare case of early-onset Alzheimer’s, everything gradually slips away, and even her considerable intelligence only hastens the drop-off when it comes. To be fair, Still Alice doesn’t dwell too long in cheap sentimentalism: it lets things play without drawing them out, and is capable of terrifying moments (such as when Alice meticulously prepares a self-destruction plan, to be triggered at a certain level of functional degeneration). Moore is indeed spectacular in the lead role, with surprisingly touching assistance from Alec Baldwin (not playing a complete cad, for once) and Kirsten Stewart (making the most out of her limited range). It amounts to an affecting portrait of a mind in free-fall, and the conclusion ends at what’s probably the last graceful moment of Alice’s life, letting the cruel business of physical death as a foregone conclusion. Still Alice feels even more poignant in learning that Richard Glatzer, the co-director of the film, had advanced ALS during its production, and died months after its release. I liked it quite a bit more than I expected, even though I could shake off the emptiness it created for a while.

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