Julianne Moore is frontrunner for this year’s Best Actress Oscar, having already taken home a Golden Globe for her lead role in Still Alice. Such attention should bring more people to see this independent movie, about a 50-year-old professor living with early-onset Alzheimer’s. While Moore’s performance contains the dynamics and credibility demanded, the star of Still Alice is the rare condition being spotlit.
Anyone who has known someone with Alzheimer’s, might think twice about heading in to be “entertained” by Still Alice. From her pre-diagnosis through to the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, we rarely leave Alice (Moore). The plot charts her decline; how the disease steadily destroys her memory, functioning and – crucially – her self-identity. Most time is dedicated to the reactions of, and impact upon, Alice, as well as her family.
Still Alice is undeniably moving. However, for all its obvious ability to tug our heart-strings, the drama unfolding can be oddly sterile. Part of the reason is that predictable choices are made, about what bits of Alice’s life to show. Also, you might be off-put by the focus placed upon someone suffering from Alzheimer’s, at a younger age than usual. Even though the film does nothing explicit to suggest Alice’s situation is more tragic, some viewers could take it that way.
Whatever your reaction to the disease and sufferer on-screen, a notable theme throughout Still Alice is the worth of a human life. Before the early-onset Alzheimer’s, Alice was a successful, renowned academic. The searing irony of a linguistics professor losing her cognitive abilities is not lost on Alice. But what she repeatedly raises is the loss felt, at slowly forgetting all she has strived for and achieved. “It feels like my brain is dying,” Alice describes, to husband John (Alec Baldwin) “And everything I have worked so hard for in my life is disappearing.”
Alice grieves over herself. Her value as a person has been savagely undercut, because she no longer can define herself by intellect, employment, or accomplishments. Alice’s reaction is understandable. Having the rug pulled out on who we think we are, could infect even the deepest layers of what it means to be us. You. Me. Being an engaged spectator of how ailing Alice views herself, should lead viewers to question the meaning of their life. For if Alice reckons she has lost herself because of Alzheimer’s, doesn’t that mean any one of us could find our worth diminished? Possibly by a terminal illness, or any other trouble in life that strikes at the core of who we are?
At this point, you might be reaching for “made in the image of God”. The well-known, well-loved revelation from God, recorded at Genesis 1:27-28. How humans have inherent, unshakeable worth – because they carry marks of their Creator. Although Alice sees her worth as diminished, due to being unable to define herself as she always has, God doesn’t see humans that way. Yes, the persistent blight of sin has tainted humanity. The “image of God” has been regrettably obscured. But, as these uplifting words from Psalm 139 proclaim, the sheer fact of being created by The Creator provides worth that nothing can erase. Such knowledge must lead us to proper worship of God, not pointless grief. “I will praise [God] because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. [His] works are wonderful, and I know this very well.” (Psalm 139:14)
Release Date: January 29