Alice (Julianne Moore) is a Columbia University professor and distinguished scholar on language. We open with her touring the country to speak on the subject, her character weighted with the profound significance of her overwhelming knowledge on linguistics. Everything about her seems ordered, precise and calmly imposing.
On one of her routine visits to work, she finds herself lost in the middle of the campus grounds. It’s shocking, having this put-together woman unsure of what to do. Struggling to piece together where she is and what she’s doing there, we get the first glimpse to how the film will pan out- the camera spirals around her with a dizzying soundtrack of violent violin strings, the music mounting and building to create a tone reminiscent of a thriller. Alice is tested for early onset Alzheimer’s and when the devastating results come back positive, she finds that she has to reassess her whole existence.
Julianne is perfect in a role suited to her perceptive flair for playing a character whose fundamental shift in personality is at the heart of the narrative. Her portrayal seems sensitive and honest throughout, physically and mentally changing as the illness takes hold. The film charts her struggle to come to terms with both the illness and losing her own kind of superpower- her use of language. It’s an important issue to deal with, and this film handles it well. The screenplay doesn’t shy away from showing an honest version of how the illness can dramatically shape the lives of not only the sufferer, but also everyone around them. No other film has been as successful for a long time.
Alzheimer’s is of course the central conflict, but it is the theme of family that seems to dominate. A mother of three and wife of a fellow Columbia professor Dr. John Howland (a brilliant turn but Alec Baldwin), her precise lifestyle is measured by her structured career and dedicated work ethic. As the illness takes hold of her, the family bond is tested, especially that between Alice and her daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart). Considered the problem child after leaving New York to follow her dream of becoming a stage actress, Lydia returns home after seeing just how vulnerable Alice has become, culminating in a reversal of roles which is heart-rendering, profoundly uplifting and the perfect way to sum up this important film.
Still Alice is out in the UK on 6th March