Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Still Alice


Of all the horrible things that can happen to a person in this vale of tears, the scariest one to me is getting burned over ninety percent of my body … and surviving. In second place is Alzheimer’s. (Third place is getting eaten alive by a shark, but I think I have that one solved. Just don’t go in the water. No matter what happened in that movie Sharknado, I don’t expect to encounter a Great White on Sunset Boulevard.)

This year proved beyond doubt that the most likely path to Oscar gold is to portray someone with a horrible medical condition. Eddie Redmayne won by playing Stephen Hawking, whose body was wasting away to nothing. And Julianne Moore won for playing someone whose mind is wasting away. In this case, I’d have to say she deserved it (I thought Michael Keaton was robbed by Redmayne), but that’s at least partly because it wasn’t a strong year for women’s roles.

She plays a woman who is a world-renowned cognitive psychology professor, of all the ironic professions she might have. She’s only fifty, so this is early-onset Big A, the worst kind, because it is fast-moving and 100% inheritable. So it affects her family in more than just the normal horrible ways of gradually losing her. It is all heart-tugging and sincere, and I will admit to a few scenes that choked me up, particularly the first time she got lost in the familiar surroundings of Columbia University, and later when she couldn’t find the bathroom in her own beach cottage, and wet herself. She is very good, and so is Alec Baldwin as her husband.

One thing that pissed me off some, though, concerned her brilliant plan to be able to commit suicide when the disease had gone beyond a certain point. She makes a recording to herself. Every day her phone asks her some questions: What is your daughter’s name? Where do you live? When were you born? When she reaches the point where she can’t remember these things, the recording tells her where to find a stash of pills. She instructs herself to take them all, then lie down and go to sleep. The poor woman has a hell of a time finding them, because she can only remember one step of the instructions at a time. But she is still resourceful, carries the laptop along with her, finds the bottle labeled TAKE ALL OF THESE WITH WATER. She is about to swallow them when a deus ex machina arrives in the form of her caretaker, startles her, and she spills them all over the floor. She is too hopelessly fucked up by then to deal with this.

Why did I want her to die at that point? Because she had deliberately put her younger self in loco parentis to her increasingly childlike older self, and was doing what she felt best for both of them. I agree with her. The movie ends on a sappy note of hope, and didn’t have the courage to go on to show the part of sitting in a wheelchair, drooling and shitting herself and possibly screaming in terror all day long (that can happen) and being a burden to her family and society for many more years. I firmly believe there comes a time to check out. You may disagree, but there it is.