Still Alice begins before its titular character’s diagnosis, but the signs of her early-onset Alzheimer’s are already noticeable. The film is straightforward and unsentimental from the onset in portraying the unrelenting effects of the disease, and its tragic inevitability makes the film brutally simple and moving.
Alice (Julianne Moore) is a linguistic professor and renowned academic who starts forgetting words and fumbling through her lectures. Her efforts to keep the symptoms of the disease at bay are all the more affecting because of how much she bases her sense of self on her brilliant mind.
Alice’s grief at receiving her diagnosis is infused with guilt, as there’s a possibility she has passed on the disease to her three grown children. They each are devastated by watching their mother slowly slip away from them, but only her daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart) is willing to go through the sad everyday mundanities with someone who struggles to remember who she is.
The film doesn’t always let us know how much time has passed between every scene, creating a sense of disorientation and occasionally putting us closer to Alice’s mindset than that of the people around her. The camera goes in and out of focus at key moments to show the haze of Alice’s mind, such as in an early scene when she gets lost on her regular running route. The effects of the disease are portrayed quietly until they have stripped away her entire identity.
Julianne Moore’s performance is worthy of her Oscar win, and if the film is lacking in detail or fleshed-out surrounding characters, it’s because it mainly serves as a vessel for an exploration of the interior of one woman’s mind, and the excruciating process of its deterioration. Still Alice is a compelling portrayal of what it’s like to be powerless while your whole life is ripped away.