Review: Still Alice

Never forget, never give up

Rating: Good, 7 of 10

It’s always a difficult task when to talk about diseases, sickness and maybe even write a book, a script or make a movie about it. For one thing it’s not a popular thing, we usually tend to avert such things in our daily life.

In this case it’s a story about Alice Howland, a linguistic professor who discovers one day that she forgets words. She goes to a doctor and receives the diagnosis of having Alzheimer. From this point on we follow her and her family and how they cope with the situation.

What makes this different to other movies is that for one thing it is adapted from a book by Lisa Genova, which was self-published in 2007 and became quite famous. Mainly because it felt like the story was told by Alice Holwand herself. This is one aspect that makes the film different to others – because they accomplished the same feeling right on the screen. The performance of Julianne Moore is overwhelming, the script is focussed on her character and all the other persons within the story feel like supporting characters for her. Don’t get me wrong – they all did a wonderful job, I even believe that this was done by mere intention.

Dr. Alice Howland: Good morning. It’s an honor to be here. The poet Elizabeth Bishoponce wrote: ‘the Art of Losing isn’t hard to master: so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster.’ I’m not a poet, I am a person living with Early Onset Alzheimer’s, and as that person I find myself learning the art of losing every day. Losing my bearings, losing objects, losing sleep, but mostly losing memories…
[she knocks the pages from the podium]
Dr. Alice Howland: I think I’ll try to forget that just happened.
[crowd laughs]
Dr. Alice Howland: All my life I’ve accumulated memories – they’ve become, in a way, my most precious possessions. The night I met my husband, the first time I held my textbook in my hands. Having children, making friends, traveling the world. Everything I accumulated in life, everything I’ve worked so hard for – now all that is being ripped away. As you can imagine, or as you know, this is hell. But it gets worse. Who can take us seriously when we are so far from who we once were? Our strange behavior and fumbled sentences change other’s perception of us and our perception of ourselves. We become ridiculous, incapable, comic. But this is not who we are, this is our disease. And like any disease it has a cause, it has a progression, and it could have a cure. My greatest wish is that my children, our children – the next generation – do not have to face what I am facing. But for the time being, I’m still alive. I know I’m alive. I have people I love dearly. I have things I want to do with my life. I rail against myself for not being able to remember things – but I still have moments in the day of pure happiness and joy. And please do not think that I am suffering. I am not suffering. I am struggling. Struggling to be part of things, to stay connected to whom I was once. So, ‘live in the moment’ I tell myself. It’s really all I can do, live in the moment. And not beat myself up too much… and not beat myself up too much for mastering the art of losing. One thing I will try to hold onto though is the memory of speaking here today. It will go, I know it will. It may be gone by tomorrow. But it means so much to be talking here, today, like my old ambitious self who was so fascinated by communication. Thank you for this opportunity. It means the world to me. Thank you.

One of the highlights for me was the moment when Alice discovers – by accident – a video on her laptop recorded by herself a few months before where she describes step by step what she can do to stop this “painful” development all by herself.

Dr. Alice Howland: Hi, Alice. I’m you. And I have something very important to say to you. Huh… I guess you’ve reached that point when you can answer any of your questions. So this is the next logical step. I’m sure of it. Because what’s happening to you, the Alzheimer’s – you could see it as tragic. But your life has been anything but tragic. You’ve had a remarkable career, and a great marriage, and three beautiful children. All right. Listen to me, Alice. This is important. Make sure that you are alone and go to the bedroom. In your bedroom, there’s a dresser with a blue lamp. Open the top drawer. In the back of the drawer, there’s a bottle with pills in it. It says ‘take all pills with water’. Now, there are a lot of pills in that bottle, but it’s very important that you swallow them all, okay? And then, lie down and go to sleep. And don’t tell anyone what you’re doing, okay?

I take this as an opportunity to say that it also helped me in understanding the situation of Terry Pratchett. He was one of my favorite authors and I loved his books, also had the chance of meeting him once in Vienna and he was great, funny and he took his time with his fans. What a great guy he was. When I heard that he was diagnosed Alzheimer and how he coped with it I kinda followed his statements and what he was fighting for. For not being confronted with Alzheimer this movie helped to get a better picture.

There is one scene within the movie where Alice talks to her husband that she wishes to have cancer instead. I do not remember the diaologue exactly but I found this in the book.

“She wished she had cancer instead. She’d trade Alzheimer’s for cancer in a heartbeat. She felt ashamed for wishing this, and it was certainly a pointless bargaining, but she permitted herself the fantasy anyway. With cancer, she’d have something to fight. There was surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. There was the chance that she could win. Her family and the community at Harvard would rally behind her battle and consider it noble. And even if it defeated her in the end, she’d be able to look them knowingly in the eye and say good-bye before she left.”
― Lisa GenovaStill Alice

Finally, to bring this to an end I recommend this movie to anyone who may had a relative or a friend who got sick and also to every other person who ever wanted to know something about Alzheimer. You get a glimpse but it is still a well done glimpse. In the best of times the movie doesn’t make you cry, it makes you think.

So thanks for not making it too emotional.

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