Saturday, March 7, 2015

'Still Alice': Review and Richard Glatzer Tribute

'Still Alice' is one of the most important films of our lifetime.

I truly believe that.

The reasons are many, but I will start with a few.

First, I'd like to pay homage to the director of the film 'Still Alice', Richard Glatzer.

He died a few weeks ago, only months after the release of his very important film.

Glatzer suffered from a related neurodegenerative ailment, ALS (you know, the disease we all did the 'ice bucket challenge' for last year) and sadly he lost his battle recently.

What incredible foresight he and his wife - who also directed - Wash Westmoreland had in making this movie. Glatzer was only 63 when he died. And what a legacy he has left. As you may know, Julianne Moore won an Oscar for her portrayal as a linguistics professor Alice Howland in the movie. And if you have seen it, you'll know it is well deserved. The movie is based on the Lisa Genova 2007 novel of the same name.

I saw the movie a few weeks ago. I'd invited a friend to come along, as I had a double pass. I really wanted to see it before it was off the big screen, and so one Saturday a few weeks ago, I went solo to the Beverly Hills cinema (in Sydney) and watched it with a group of people. I sat at the front because I knew I'd want to immerse myself in with distractions and… I knew I'd cry.

What I wasn't prepared for was just how much I cried. Throughout the movie, yes. At pivotal, confronting scenes yes, like when Alice, descending into early onset dementia, forgets where the toilet at the family holiday house is and wets herself. A once competent adult, not knowing the basics of toileting anymore. It broke my heart because I saw my mother, and I saw the helplessness these beautiful people go through, not knowing what to do. And mortified by it all, but not quite registering.

And thinking about the parent of a very dear friend of mine, diagnosed with early onset dementia and now in full time care. A once extremely accomplished man, his beautiful brain degenerating to that of a child.

But what knocked me or six was how much I felt compelled to sob, and sob, and sob some more when the credits rolled. I felt for Alice, who was so beautifully and realistically portrayed by Julianne, and who was completely (save for her grunting as a way to communicate) non verbal in the end.

I recalled all the hard times, all the trying times, all the times I felt lonely, all the times I felt guilty for wondering when the hard times would end, I remembered my mother's beautiful heart, how helpless she felt, how she was confused about what was happening. Not that she could say it in those words. She was still verbal in the end, but the way she expressed herself was limited.

I felt sad all over again for my friend and her dad, and his wife and the rest of the lovely family, and what they have lost: the man he was, the memories they were going to make, the sadness I see in their eyes - and his.

I wanted to shout to the social media world: you MUST watch this movie! You must talk about it, and be respectful to carers in your family, and know and love them for what they do, and appreciate how much they take the heat off you. And to get amongst the care and participate, and get your spouse to participate, because being a part of a family is not just about the good times. That's easy - anyone can do that.

I wanted to recount the film to anyone who would listen, and tell them (bore them, perhaps? I don't know - I talk about this wherever I go, perhaps it's a bit tedious to the listener… I kinda don't care, though) that they should see it. To support films at the cinema, to support the Aussie man behind it (James Brown), to understand early onset dementia, and to understand dementia.

Dementia is our third biggest killer in Australia (ABS, 2012), and that figure is consistent around the world.

And early onset dementia is extremely important to talk about because it is even more taboo than dementia. Yes, I do believe dementia is a taboo topic because the people whose lives have not been touched by it are often driven by fear and ignorance on the topic, and are way too scared to venture into finding out what it is, and if their loved one has it. Suddenly, you have a child on your hands - your own parent. And that is very confronting.

Having experienced dementia first hand in caring for my mother, I know that we must keep talking about it, and we also need to start acknowledging carers a whole lot more. Carers thrive on that, the acknowledgement. Being a carer can be a lonely road, and yes… we like to be told we are doing a good job in the midst of tears and sadness and feeling really bloody helpless. And - perhaps it's also taboo to say - feeling resentful that your life is now like this. Which makes you feel like shit because you know it's not their fault, poor little things.

In the movie, when Alice records a video for herself, which she already anticipates she will need later, it is  poignant and sad. And in perhaps the cruelest blow: Alice's dementia is of a rare, hereditary kind. 

Alec Baldwin plays Alice's husband, and when he refutes her initial diagnosis Alice positively loses it. In that moment, when he later comforts her, you can see it all clearly: without family, the battle is much harder to navigate.

Kate Bosworth, as their tightly-wound eldest daughter, and Kristen Stewart, as her sister Lydia, do lovely, complementary work.

The biggest irony of all of course is that the woman who has studied and made a living out of language, and is a champion at 'Words With Friends' will eventually not be able to speak. That cuts me deep, watching all that unfold. Even more, when Lydia her daughter (played by Kristen Stewart) Lydia recites passages from 'Angels in America' to her mother, and by then, they have become sounds, but Alice is still able to recognise them as sounds pertaining to love.

This film will mean a lot to many people – not just people who have had family affected by dementia, but anyone whom it could affect, in future, in their lifetime. They just don't know it yet.

Please, see it.

Here is the trailer:

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