It’s easy to make comedy and farce out of those suffering from Alzheimer’s. The idea of elderly people finding themselves in places that they do not remember ever getting to and forgetting the names of loved ones while yelling out overtly racist comments is one of the oldest tropes used in both high and low comedy.
But the reality is much sadder and tragic than what we want to believe. People who care for loved ones with the disease know this truth too great for it to be funny. “Still Alice” stars Julianne Moore as Dr. Alice Howland, a prominent linguistics professor at Columbia University. After she realizes that she is slowly losing her memory Alice decides to see a neurologist. It is in these meetings that she is diagnosed with a rare type of early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The kind she has is hereditary and it is possible that she has passed the gene – which if possessed guarantees that the carrier will suffer from Alzheimer’s – to her three children.
In “Still Alice,” Alzheimer’s comes to Alice – to quote John Green – “the same way you fall asleep: slowly at first, and then all at once.” It starts off with forgetting words. No harm, we all forget words every once in a while. After some time, she forgets her surroundings, then the layout of her home, then – most terrifying of all — how to speak. Directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland walked a thin line between Lifetime movie and a sappy melodrama without falling into either. They allow Moore to fight the disease as other people do and then let her succumb under the weight in a natural manner.
Even with a runtime of 1 hour, 41 minutes, the pace feels like real life. The moment when Alice tells her children that she has Alzheimer’s is the moment that her disease becomes more prominent. The kind of Alzheimer’s Alice has is hereditary with her children having a 50 percent chance of carrying the gene and a 100 percent chance of getting the disease if they possess the gene. There’s a moment when Alice’s eldest daughter (Kate Bosworth) calls her to inform her that she has tested positive for the gene. Alice says to her, “I’m so sorry.” That pain and guilt of knowing that your children inherited a gene that will most certainly make them suffer from a disease that deteriorates the brain is near impossible to explain. Yet Julianne Moore finds a way in those three words to sum it all up for any parent.
“Still Alice” is one of those movies that doesn’t need to be stylized to be good. It’s good because of the performances and because of the subject matter. Movies like “Still Alice” need to exist because Alzheimer’s is too often seen as comedy. Without that truth and understanding, how can we as a society strive to find a proper treatment for a disease that according to the National Health Institute effects 5 million Americans?