There’s no stopping the acting juggernaut that is Julianne Moore. Having received the ultimate accolade – the Oscar for Best Actress – for Still Alice, it’s difficult to see around the performance – which is such a layered melting pot of deep emotions in battle with one another – at the movie itself; a quiet, meditative, sensitive yet unabashed drama that grapples with themes of life, death and memory with elegance.
Still Alice’s premise is a gloomy one. Alice Howland (Moore) is a linguistics professor, and has come to define her life and personality by her intellect, her capacity for memory, and her way with words. But that all begins to fall apart when memories of places, textbook quotes and even everyday phrases start falling away from her. Showing no signs of stopping, she checks out with her doctor who confirms she has Early Onset Alzheimer’s disease. But she doesn’t face this struggle alone; her loving but distracted husband (Alec Baldwin) and wannabe actor daughter (Kristen Stewart) both act in her best interests, while everyone else backs away from this terrifying affliction that grips a central figure in their lives.
If you took Moore out of Still Alice, you would be gutting the film of 50% of its substance. Under directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s assured hands, adapting Alice’s story from the pages of Lisa Genova’s source novel, the movie is a well-mounted if unremarkable bit of filmmaking; although not pedestrian by any means, this is first and foremost Moore’s show, to an extent that it feels suspiciously more like an Oscar bid than a genuine case study of the loss of one’s mind. If Still Alice were the sun, Moore is the superhot nucleus, bringing her radiance to the surface; but that’s not to take away from the movie’s other excellent players. Chief among the supporting cast is Kristen Stewart as Alice’s daughter Lydia, further proving to the world that Twilight was only a detour on her route to awards glory: an Oscar will follow that Cesar in no short amount of time.
As Alice’s condition worsens toward the end, it becomes both difficult to watch yet wholly compelling; labels like ‘triumphant’ are thrown around when it comes to successful depictions of ravaging diseases, but there is nothing triumphant about Alice’s plight. That is the key point of the movie; there is no respite from losing your memories, and any sense of reconciliation with your dreadful fate would be only an illusion. Instead, Still Alice, in its beautiful final moments, reveals the utter transiency of life, and the memories – scarred by Alzheimer’s or not – that make it. Still Alice may be a performance piece – but what a performance, and what a piece.