by Spencer Matthew
As with most other chronic and progressive diseases, Alzheimer’s disease affects not only the person afflicted with it but also friends and family members. Because Alzheimer’s is neurological in nature, causing deterioration in the brain, the memory loss and eventual loss of motor functions mean that the afflicted person will need at least one caregiver – a role that often falls to family members and friends in the early stages. In the film, Still Alice, Julianne Moore portrays the title character who becomes diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s shortly after her 50th birthday.
By most accounts, Moore’s portrayal of successful linguistics professor Alice Howland was spot-on for showing the frustrations and loss of dignity that accompany this devastating disease as it progresses. The film explores not only the reactions of family members to the changes in Alice as they occur, but it also makes a point of portraying the ongoing damage from Alice’s point of view. Supporting cast includes actor Alec Baldwin as Alice’s husband John, Kate Bosworth as daughter Anna, and Kristen Stewart as daughter Lydia.
While Hollywood hasn’t always gotten the details right when portraying dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, there seems to be a shift in the past decade or so in the creative minds behind such films. The end result is a greater attempt at accurately portraying the symptoms and outcomes of these diseases. This trend hasn’t gone unnoticed in healthcare circles, with Still Alice receiving commendations from the likes of the Alzheimer’s Association for its accuracy and realism.
Still Alice sets itself apart from other films about Alzheimer’s, such as The Notebook and Away from Her, in that it focuses on the early stage of the disease, as well as the unique way of seeing the disease through the patient’s eyes rather than only through the reactions of others. While these other films also offer a fairly accurate portrayal of the effects of Alzheimer’s disease, they show the advanced stages rather than the early onset, and they show the supporting characters as having already come to terms with the disease’s devastation, for the most part. Still Alice instead shows us the mixed reactions of family members and loved ones when they first learn of the diagnosis.
In Alice’s case, husband John seems the hardest hit of the family members. While he still loves his wife, his love and devotion seems to make it harder for him to cope with the changes and loss of brain function that she endures. Rather than bear witness to these changes on a daily basis, he chooses to accept a job offer in a different state, citing financial need and uncertainly as the disease progresses. Likewise, daughter Anna seems to have trouble accepting the diagnosis, particularly as it is found to be genetic and she carries the gene which, in turn, creates a risk of her passing it on to her unborn children.
Ironically, the child that Alice is most disappointed in is also the one who steps up when extra care is needed. This would be youngest daughter Lydia, who chose to shun college in favor of pursuing an acting career. Alice holds out hope that Lydia will go to college eventually, even while Lydia moves back home to care for her mother when her father moves away for his new job.
Ultimately, Still Alice provides an accurate portrayal of the ugly side of Alzheimer’s disease, a condition with no known cure yet. As with so many devastating diseases, funding for research and treatment of this disease is not yet where it needs to be. However, movies like Still Alice, which can found on DirecTV and Google Play, can perhaps shed much needed light on this need and maybe even lead to an eventual cure.
Spencer Matthew is a freelance writer with a special interest in the growing importance of technology in the medical industry. He lives and works in Chicago where he lives vicariously through the variety of articles he writes.