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Film Review: Still Alice

24th March 2015

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With Julianne Moore winning an array of accolades in her depiction of the title character, including a BAFTA, an Academy Award and the Golden Globe for Best Actress, Still Alice has had exceptionally high expectations to live up to. It is an extraordinarily difficult film to watch - but for all the right reasons.

The film, which was adapted from Lisa Genova’s novel of the same name, follows Alice (played by Moore) who is an esteemed and well-renowned fifty-year-old linguistics professor at Columbia University. Against the backdrop of New York, she is cemented in a relatively conventional lifestyle alongside her family: husband John (Alec Baldwin), and three children: uptight Anna (Kate Bosworth), diplomatic Tom, and the headstrong Lydia (Kristen Stewart). Alice’s random moments of memory loss elicit a deep sense of foreboding, and when she discovers she has a genetic form of early onset Alzheimer’s, there is an effortless progression from normality to handling the insurmountable.

The irony that words are the essence of who Alice is and her age makes Moore’s depiction all the more heartbreaking and is certainly the crux of the film. It is, though, a point of debate which has not escaped many. Though arguably the situation is more tragic due to Alice’s age and there are claims that this takes away from the suffering of those who suffer from the disease later in life, this cannot take away from the very real and raw emotion Moore conveys. There is no sugar coating; we see her lose her work, her words, and who she once was. The question of whether she is still Alice is left unanswered. To answer no would mean defining what makes us us, an impossible question to answer universally. To answer yes would not be realistic, and Still Alice is nothing if not real.

In one single expression, Moore conveys more than one can imagine. Her pain, defeatism, strength; it all comes together in one swoop. This is very much a film about Alice and Moore’s portrayal is visceral and masterful. Although, Stewart’s nuanced performance is also notable as Lydia’s subtle progression from the conventionally, slightly defensive outsider sibling to compassionate and reliable is moving. When John’s career plans look to be affected and he refers to Lydia as “a better man than he”, it rings genuinely true.

Ranging from moments of deep tension when Alice forgets part of her speech, to sadness when she initially fails to recognise Lydia, to the moment when she finds a message from herself telling her how to overdose, we, as an audience, are hooked. Willing her to get better and beat the odds is the mindset that cannot be escaped, whilst a dull understanding of inevitability refuses to dissipate. Yet, the ending, which we know is coming, leaves behind a small intangible sense of something other than inevitability as Alice recognises a theme of Angels in America: love.

Above all, Still Alice is one of the most powerful films I have ever seen. Exploring such difficult subject matter so sensitively and inciting such strong emotions in what seemed to be everyone in the cinema has made all the accolades it has received well-deserved. A stunning performance from all actors, with Moore rising up, as she should, makes it difficult to stomach because of the reality that is impossible to ignore. Insightful, uncomfortable and poignant sums up what looks to be one of the most commended films of the year.

Still Alice is out in UK cinemas now.

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