Still Alice movie review: a true horror movie

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Still Alice green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…
Julianne Moore’s terror at watching her own emotional and intellectual life slip away is palpable, and much scarier to me than any slasher movie.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Julianne Moore
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

This is my own personal Worst Possible Nightmare magicked into being and splashed up on the screen in all its larger-than-life, oh-look-it’s-happening-to-a-movie-star heightened reality. Movies about insane axe murderers and methodical serial killers do not frighten me. Still Alice scares the shit out of me.

And, of course, its horror is far more likely to impact you or me than anything that runs around in a slasher movie. Except it would be much, much worse than what we see here.

Julianne Moore has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Not really Julianne Moore the actual person, but kinda still Julianne Moore the onscreen goddess. Beautiful, brilliant, talented, with her perfect husband and perfect family and perfect career and perfect life. She is everything. Okay, it’s Columbia University linguistics professor Alice Howland, but still: It’s Julianne Moore (Seventh Son, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I). It’s because she’s so amazing as an actor that it’s weirdly actually more difficult to separate her from the character she is portraying here. We are watching Moore deteriorate onscreen in a way that is — for me, at least — far too easy to imagine for myself. Much easier than, say, having cancer. (“I wish I had cancer,” Alice laments at one point.) Moore-and-Alice are everything a woman could aspire to be, with her full life that is rich both emotionally and intellectually, and it is slipping away from her in a way that she can see and feel and track. Her terror at this is palpable and immediate and infectious. (For someone like me, who has always lived in her own head, this is the worst thing I can imagine happening to me.) She loves her work, and she is finding it increasingly difficult to do. Her mind is going while she watches, helplessly.

Horrifying: Alice’s doctor tells her that really smart people are often much further along in the disease when they are eventually diagnosed, because they’re been using their smarts to make up for memory lapses in the early stages.

Horrifying: Alice’s preparative strategy for dealing with her disease once it becomes very advanced is one kind of tragedy. And then how it plays out is a whole new kind of tragedy.

Horrifying: The writer-director team of Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (Quinceañera) do things like jump from one scene to another without apparent connection — like how when Alice and her husband, John (Alec Baldwin: Rise of the Guardians, Rock of Ages), are suddenly no longer in their Upper West Side townhouse but at their Long Island beach house. It’s jarring… until you realize that this is probably Alice’s experience of her life now, suddenly finding herself in different places with no memory of how she got there or why she went.

(Sad: Glatzer and Westmoreland weren’t just creative partners but life partners, and it seems that Still Alice was their way of coping with Glatzer’s ALS. He died of it in March.)

What’s that? They have beach house on top of prime Manhattan real estate? John is a doctor? They’re supporting their youngest child (Kristen Stewart [The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, Snow White and the Huntsman], who is fantastic here) while she tries to be an actress in Los Angeles? Yes, Still Alice is about the suffering of beautiful rich people. And yet that’s not so much a criticism of the film but an added horror: the Howlands have every resource possible available to them. Expensive doctors. The prospect of a fancy nursing home for Alice (horrifying: her visit to the place to scope it out). And there’s still nothing that can do to fix Alice or even slow down her decline. Nothing.

As terrible as things are here, this is nothing to what dealing with Alzheimer’s is like without those resources. That would probably be too horrific for even a fictional film to get near.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Still Alice for its representation of girls and women.

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Tue, Apr 28, 2015 5:16pm

All very true, and yet…and yet…

This is a film not to be missed. No matter what you think you know about Alzheimer’s (unless you have experienced it in your family), Moore will show you something new. And horrifying. And fascinating.

This movie will stick with you. It’s terrific.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  FunWithHeadline
Tue, Apr 28, 2015 10:22pm

Agreed: not to be missed. Hence the green light. :-)

Tue, Apr 28, 2015 8:41pm

also my biggest fear. losing my mind, or my agency to a stroke or alzheimer’s – just the worst thing i can imagine.

Wed, Apr 29, 2015 2:40pm

My Grandmother used to run an Alzheimer’s nursing home. Every time we visited her at work she’d introduce us again. It was a peaceful place but highly unsettling to my young self. She let someone else take over shortly after she fired one of her staff for stealing from the patients. I think I agree with Alice about rather having cancer.

Maria Niku
Maria Niku
Sat, May 02, 2015 9:32pm

I saw this recently, and found it difficult to think about it at all afterwards, so gut-wrenching was Julianne Moore’s performa ce – other than “I’m going to die one day, just please please please let it not be of Alzheimer’s.

Sun, May 03, 2015 7:23pm

I’m actually more freaked out by aneurisms. My grandfather suffered one and his entire personality changed overnight. When I get deployed, my big fear isn’t that I’ll die, it’s that I’ll get a piece of shrapnel in my brain that will make me a vegetable.

Sat, Jul 18, 2015 4:48pm

The last few sentences of your review brought tears to my eyes. I’ve done volunteer work in Memory Care Units, most of which are very expensive, and am well aware of the quality of care, or lack thereof, in those places which are mostly for Medicaid patients. Well written, thoughtful review, and of course, Julianne Moore was brilliant and very, very real.