There's no doubt Julianne Moore well deserved her Oscar for Best Actress in Still Alice. Her portrayal of a 50-year-old woman undergoing the early onset of Alzheimer's disease is heartbreaking and compassionate as she characterizes the deterioration and downfall of the life she loved and knew. The film is playing as part of the 2015 Glasgow Film Festival.
At the start of the film, she portrayed her character Alice as a confident, accomplished, tenured professor at a prestigious New York City university. She's a high-flying tiger mom as she interacts with her three adult children. With one son in medical school and one daughter (Kate Bosworth) as a lawyer, it was the troubled, emotional relationship with the third child, played by Kristen Stewart, which was fascinating to watch. She was the one who opted out of college to try her hand in theater in Los Angeles. Over dinner, the mother and daughter argue over higher education versus happiness as a jobbing actor.
As the film progresses, little things are starting to throw Alice off. She gets lost on the campus where she's taught for years. Suddenly, she's at a loss for words and they drop out of her vocabulary when she prides herself as a linguistics professor. A brain tumor?! -- as many of us tend to wonder when we're having a bad day.
Getting old and forgetting things, especially with busy lives and children, is normal. It's the realization when you begin to lose part of your vibrant self that Moore captures so poignantly. If you see someone stricken with Alzheimer's, you might feel sympathy, and even revulsion ashamedly, because you don't know who that person is underneath the verbal mutterings and physical frailties.
As I watched my own step-grandfather in Taiwan decline with Alzheimer's disease, you realize what a strange ailment it is, especially if you live halfway around the world and you see them intermittently. One moment he was incoherent at a Thanksgiving dinner in Taiwan, centered on a cooked rooster with its comb burnt black in my grandmother's version of a roasted bird. The next moment, the former lawyer asks a sharp question about your piano playing because he remembered you took lessons from the last visit a few years ago. Meanwhile, he wears a bloodied bandage around his head because he fell as he walked down the stairs.
Still Alice also deals with untold pressures on the family members with empathy. Before she completely loses it all, her husband, played by Alec Baldwin, disappoints her, knowing she can't move because she'll lose all familiarity. Still, Alice has to appreciate she's had a great marriage and life can't stop for those around her, even if her life is about to come to a standstill. It's her daughter, with whom she has a contentious relationship, who comes through at the end with the most compassion.
That's what love is when someone has Alzheimer's, and there's no easy way to live. Moore portrayed this particular disease with humanity and teaches a lesson for us all.