Release date: 6 March 2015
Running time: 101 min
Directors: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
Starring: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth
The fragility of human memory has played on the minds of filmmakers throughout the history of cinema. From amnesiac murder witnesses to the absent minded comic relief, it is a trope that has been deployed for almost as long as people have been pointing cameras at actors. It’s surprising then that there are so few instances where the devastating effects of dementia have been tackled seriously. Memory loss is nothing more than a convenient plot contrivance and one of cinema’s biggest lies; something to create tension or raise a chuckle, but rarely seen for the life altering affliction it can be.
Such is the importance of Still Alice, which doesn’t shy away from the brutal unfairness of conditions like Alzheimer’s. It offers the agony of watching someone slowly slip away, as Julianne Moore’s Alice has fading memories which begin to rob her of her autonomy. There are no laughs or last minute twists here, just the harsh reality of a hideous disease laid bare onscreen. Uncomfortable viewing barely begins to cover it.
Moore is, unsurprisingly, incredible in this Oscar-winning role. She delivers just the right blend of gutsy bravado and terrified fragility in the face of such adversity; her fear is met with a resourcefulness as she intends to utilise every tool at her disposal to combat her inevitable decline. At her most trying times, the camera often lingers on her in close-up, revealing the inner battles she is facing to maintain her identity. The fact that she is such a likeable screen presence makes her plight all the more harrowing.
She is matched by similarly strong turns from the members of her onscreen family. Alec Baldwin adds an extra layer to his usual wealthy dickhead schtick: as a husband he is useless, but he cares. He suffers too, but in a less sympathetic way. Kate Bosworth and Kristen Stewart bicker with the spit-fire bitchiness of real sisters, while Hunter Parrish plays the peace-keeping role of the middle child with subtle aplomb. They are all given their time, however brief, to show their love but also their pain. In this sense it feel likes a true family drama.
A heartbreaking story that many will find hits awfully close to the bone, it is told with frank honesty. Directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland are clearly keen to let the subject matter speak for itself and add only minor tweaks to the visuals to accentuate their point, often blurring out the background to focus on Alice when she’s struggling to find her thoughts. There are flaws -it’s a shame they could not be so restrained with their overly dramatic score- but they are minor. As challenging and uncomfortable as cinema experiences get, but there is beauty to behold as well. A pivotal, and dare I say it, unforgettable film.