An easy word escapes her mid-lecture. Then she loses her way jogging familiar campus roads. These and other unsettling memory lapses prompt 50-year-old Alice Howland, a vivacious linguistics professor at the height of her career, to consult a neurologist. The diagnosis hits hard. Based on a novel by Lisa Genova (see Alzforum review), the movie “Still Alice” follows Howland, played by Julianne Moore, as she descends into early onset Alzheimer’s. Filmed from Alice’s point of view, it offers moviegoers a window into the patient's experience. The film tackles a heavy topic by portraying challenges faced by both people with early onset AD and their families and friends, as well as the resilience they summon.

Still Alice?

Actress Julianne Moore plays Alice, who has early onset Alzheimer’s. [Photo by Linda Kallerus, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.]

Alice and her husband, John (Alec Baldwin), work and teach at Columbia University in New York. They have three grown children—Anna (Kate Bosworth), Tom (Hunter Parrish), and Lydia (Kristen Stewart)—and a comfortable lifestyle among New York’s academic elite. When her neurologist runs cognitive tests that pick up short-term memory problems, and a PET scan that reveals β-amyloid in Alice's brain, he delivers the devastating news. As the disease progresses, Alice leaves her job, forgets her children’s names, gets lost in her own house, and ultimately becomes completely dependent on others for her care. In the turmoil, Anna finds out that she inherited the presenilin mutation responsible for Alice's disease. 

Moore has already taken home more than 10 awards for playing Alice, including the 2015 Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama, and has been nominated for best leading actress at the upcoming Academy Awards. To prepare for the role, she spoke with patients, doctors, and other Alzheimer’s experts. Moore conveys Alice’s terror at the prospect of losing her faculties, her desperation as she attempts to hold onto them, and her fading sense of self. Alice’s initially expressive face becomes distant, until at last her stare is vacant.

The movie was co-directed by Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and communicates via electronic tablet from his wheelchair. In one scene, Alice delivers a speech at an event held by the Alzheimer’s Association, highlighting her notes in yellow as she talks to avoid repeating herself. Penned by Glatzer, the speech is a firsthand account of the loss and isolation patients feel, their struggle to stay connected to the people they once were, and their desire to be recognized as individuals, rather than be defined by their disease.—Gwyneth Dickey Zakaib


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Book page Citations

  1. Interview with Lisa Genova

Further Reading