Dying is not the conclusion to anyone’s story. We will never be done exploring the wonder of who we are. While following along on Alice’s journey in the movie “Still Alice,” we become a part of an experience through a unique style the movie is made in, the emergence of all forms of love within Alice’s family, and the struggle Alice endures to keep her youth and the desire to die gracefully. Not everyone’s life may be effected by Alzheimer’s disease, but the people who are met with such a terrifying diagnosis will forever be changed. We watch as Alice struggles through the progression of her disease and how her family and friends react.
This is a movie that requires critical thinking and really does bring into perspective how important memory is in making up who we are. Alice’s identity to not only herself, but others around her, is challenged with the loss of her memory. Never before have I seen a movie executed in the way that “Still Alice” was. The style of the movie consisted of short clips strung together in chronological order as Alice’s memory starts to fade. The audience is suddenly met with a slightly hazed memory of Alice and her family that had passed away before she could even really know them.
We know by a conversation with Alice’s husband throughout the movie that both he and the children never got a chance to meet her sister and mother. Switches from the present moment to candy laced daydreams leave the audience confused and curious as to what is coming next. The scenes are relatively short and none seem to follow in short time periods directly after one another. One second we are watching Alice struggle to find her phone and the next scene we watch her phone being pulled out of the freezer… a whole month later.
It is almost as if the audience is being pulled along with Alice’s journey. We receive just a small taste as to what it must feel like to slowly lose your memory and who you were as a person. Much like Alice, we have to think and pay more attention through each scene of the movie so that we can figure out when and where everything is taking place. The scenes end like sudden fragments up until the very end, leaving the audience wondering what was supposed to be next. The interesting layout of each scene was only enhanced by the down play of dramaticization and angst between each of the characters.
Even when we are witnessing Alice leaning over her husband, screaming about how her brain is dying, there is the lack of intense drama that movies tend to throw in. There was no slow motion slaps across the face, no screaming in the rain at one another, and most certainly no dramatic build up to one single moment. If a character were to scream or cry, it felt intensely real. The music did not pick up each time tears appeared and remained an accent when in most movies, it becomes a working part of the scene. The strange silence we were met with sent chills down our spines.
Even when Alice found her butterfly video, the music’s volume increase was very subtle. There was no loved one to rush in and save the day after a struggle with a desperate Alice. In fact, Alice didn’t seem to be frustrated or desperate at any point during that scene. She is merely following orders left by herself, quietly and patiently walking back and forth so that she can remember the instructions left for her. Then her attempt at suicide are halted by none other than her own caregiver. There is no follow up on what happened after she dropped the pills.
Like many scenes in this movie, the audience is left wondering what happened next. It is only through the character’s emotional performances do we truly grasp the desperate struggle Alice tries to keep everything she is. There is no single form of love. “Still Alice” displays a number of complex relationships that somehow serve to be familiar with everyday audiences. The movie opens up with a seemingly perfect family life. Alice is fifty years old and in perfect health. She has a physician husband, a great job as a linguistics professor at Columbia University, and two very successful children.
This all adds up to the perfect life and is a family structure that we are all too familiar with as an audience. To add to the structured perfection that we are lead to believe in the beginning, Alice has one son and two daughters, the youngest being the free spirit trying to carve her own path as an aspiring actress. Despite all of their individual successes in life, their relationship seems slightly disconnected. They are all painted together into this perfect mold of a family until Alice is diagnosed with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease.
As she progresses, we see her children tip toeing around her like Alice is now made of glass. Her two older children don’t talk with Alice about her disease, thinking that it would make things worse. Her husband denies things at first, but eventually is left as a husband who is too afraid to what his wife wither away to nothing. He ends up moving to Minnesota to be away. Further into the movie, we see scenes of the two siblings and husband talking about Alice in front of her, knowing that she couldn’t quite understand everything around her.
Lydia, her youngest child, shows a more raw connection with her mother. They openly fight about her well-being, boundaries, and even about highlighting a slip of paper. Even so, Lydia is the only one seen video chatting with her mother throughout the film and the only one to ask how Alice felt about her disease. In the end, she was the one to move back and patiently be there for her mother. Even Lydia’s father hugs her, whispering “You are a better man than me” before leaving for Minnesota. Lydia was the one to stay by her mother’s side while everyone else had drifted away.
Then we witness Alice’s own love for herself. She runs often, drinks plenty of water, and eats healthy foods. She loves her life and loves who she is. Alice is proud of everything that she has accomplished up until she starts to lose her memory. We see her desperateness in trying to stay connected with herself and her family. She tries to run through her usual routine, only to forget appointments and words. Her loves runs so deep for who she was before this disease, that she created a suicide video for her to watch when she felt she would no longer be herself.
Alice wanted to preserve her youthful and intelligent self and did not want to trouble people with having to live with a person who they would become strangers to. Perhaps Alice also created this suicide video out of love for her family, whom she knew would be left to care for her once she was unable to do anything on her own. At the end of the movie, we are reminded of the one thing that binds Alice to enjoy life and the one thing she can remember when everything else is muddled, love. Finally, there is the subject of Alice’s death. Still Alice” shows an interesting viewpoint in where a death of the body is far more appreciated than the death of the mind.
Even Alice states “I wish I had cancer” to her husband. At least then she would have had something physically wrong that would eventually kill her. There would be walks and recognitions to her disease where people would be more aware of her situation. She would know exactly what was going on and be able to fully enjoy her life until the end. It is the unknown that leaves everyone terrified. Alice desires the fate to have a beautiful death. One without any struggle and that would be peaceful.
She can’t stand the thought of death without knowing who she was. If she had succeeded in her suicide attempt, then perhaps the audience would have gained that beautiful death that still had a ting of dignity to it. Instead, the movie goes on to show Alice fail and for her condition to only worsen. We are left with an unsettled ending, because that is what a disease like Alzheimer’s leads up to. Anything but a happy ending. Instead of being able to complete a bodily death, Alice finds her mental capacity wilting away until she is no longer any form of who she was before.
It starts off with small details, such as words, and seems to rapidly build into forgetting places, names, and birthdays. She can’t remember her oldest daughter, Anna’s name. When Anna has her twin babies, Alice is shown thinking Anna must be inside of the hospital for some other reason because she looked awful. Perhaps Alice forgot the fact that Anna was even pregnant, even though all of the siblings are shown to meet regularly with their parents for visits and dinner parties. Alice does fight this disease, trying to maintain the youth that she had at the beginning of the movie.
She sets an alarm to answer a list of questions, such as where she lives and what her oldest child’s name was. She spends time writing three words on a board and covering them up, setting a timer and going back to the board to see if she remembers the same three words. Alice is also shown running, attempting to smile through everything, and silently dealing with her painful struggle while no one but Lydia stops to ask how she feels. She shows frustration, such as when she and Lydia were reviewing a speech and she was using a highlighter so that she wouldn’t lose her place.
Even when faced with a muddled evaluation of her teaching skills due to her disease, she is desperate to continue working so that she could cope with her losses. Death of her mind and to all she once was is what Alice fears, so she makes plans of suicide in knowing what her eventually faith would be. Alice is eventually shown succumbing to everything, as do all Alzheimer’s patients do. She sits there, hardly able to form words as Lydia reads her the ending to a play. The mother, wife, and professor was gone to the world without any memories beyond sparse moments of her childhood.
Even as the credits roll and the audience is left speechless in their seats, “Still Alice” is not a movie completely made of fiction. Alzheimer’s disease is a terrifyingly real diagnosis that many people have to live with every day. We come to realize just how important memory is in making us who we are. “Still Alice” combines the elements of a wonderful format, compelling relationships of love, and the struggle to live to create a breathtaking movie that is certainly not a disappointment to see.
Everyone who watches “Still Alice” would get just that one hair closer to what it feels to like have such a terrifying disease. It is more common than what we may think and somewhere down the road, we may run into someone who had Alzheimer’s. It is important to realize not only what they once did, but who these people once were. Terrifying as it is, the reminder that the memory plays such an important role in who we are causes me to believe that memory itself is a crucial contributor to what it means to be human. After all, it contains what we were as a human in our lives.