By Heather Sawitsky / Posted on March 6th, 2015
Heather Sawitsky, of White Oak Cottages, writes a moving piece about the movie, Still Alice. White Oak Cottages are Assisted Living Green House homes where people living with dementia are creative, resourceful and whole. By creating an environment that is small and warm, and where people are deeply known, The Green House model is a best practice.
Still Alice, a movie based on Lisa Genova’s novel about a linguistics professor who develops early onset Alzheimer’s, is now in wide release. For those who love people with the disease, and for those who are hoping to avoid this disease (which by my count includes everyone) the question is, “Why would anyone want to see this movie?”
The answer might be because the film adaptation is a poignant and dignified presentation of a disease that is usually described in ways that exaggerate its symptoms and stigmatize its victims. Or it may be because Still Alice presents the experience of the degenerative disease through the eyes of Alice, reminding us that a person with Alzheimer’s still strives for normalcy, involvement, and emotional connection. Or it may be because the wide-angle view of the film speaks to how all of us will need to learn to master loss: of physical abilities, loved ones, and sometimes, memory.
Julianne Moore, who plays the professor Alice Howland, turns in a masterful performance. Determined not to “make it up”, Ms. Moore spent months researching Alzheimer’s disease, speaking with clinicians, women with early onset Alzheimer’s, and family members. She also underwent the same battery of cognitive tests given to those with suspected Alzheimer’s. Her performance carries the film and has earned her an Oscar® nomination.
There is one other element that sets this film apart. One of its directors, Richard Glatzer, was diagnosed with ALS in 2011. There are many parallels between ALS and Alzheimer’s. Both are neurodegenerative diseases that slowly, incrementally rob a person of their abilities. With ALS, patients lose their ability to use their muscles, thus depriving them of their ability to walk, stand, use their hands, speak, and ultimately, breathe. With Alzheimer’s, people are slowly robbed of their ability to find words, remain oriented, practice their professions, and recognize their loved ones.
Still Alice is a powerful, but restrained look at one woman who is trying to hold onto her identity and her place in the world, knowing that each week she will be able to do something less well, but not knowing what the next loss will be. Richard Glatzer’s keen understanding of this terror and his determination to live a full life notwithstanding, help make this a film that will inform and inspire.