Sunday, July 12, 2015

Still Alice

Last night, we watched the movie Still Alice.  In this movie, Julianne Moore is Dr. Alice Howland, a highly respected professor at Columbia who comes down with early-onset Alzheimer's at age 50.  Particularly for someone to whom the intellect is everything, this disease is brutal, as it slowly takes away the memories that defined their capabilities.  The film follows the disease's progression as, step by step, one thing after another is taken away from her.  And it examines, to some extent, the impact of the disease on family members.  Alec Baldwin is her husband, who is supportive but also has to watch out for his own career, since he is now the sole breadwinner.  Her children, played by Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish, and Kristin Stewart, have to figure out their own roles in their mother's life, as well as her changing role in theirs.

Julianne Moore won an Academy Award for her role, and it was well deserved.  She really became Alice Howland.  Her gradual transformation from a leading expert in linguistics to somebody who had nothing but a vague idea of who she was, was powerful, unsettling, and not pretty.  A really tremendous performance.

For many of us, the fear of getting Alzheimer's, or something like it, is a reality, especially as we grow older.  Both of my grandmothers, one of my aunts, and my mother-in-law had dementia.  Whether they had Alzheimer's or something else, I don't know, but it doesn't really matter.  It was frightening: they could very easily get out of the house one day and disappear.  It happens all the time - we see Amber Alerts nearly every week here in western North Carolina for just that sort of thing.  Or they could run up tens of thousands of dollars of in bills if an unscrupulous salesperson hits them at the wrong time (something like this happened with my aunt).  If not that, then the bills for adequate care can bankrupt a family.  In the movie, Moore and her husband were pretty affluent and had good insurance, so the story could focus on the disease and its impact.  Money was a concern but not a driving factor.  For most of us, being able to pay for adequate care will be critical concerns.

I've left the age of 60 in the rear-view mirror and the prospect of dementia is now a constant low-level bogeyman.  I'm more forgetful now, but it seems (so far) to be just normal.  Fortunately, the men in my family have all retained their mental facilities to the end.  That's good news for me, but I'm only one half of my household.

Young people watch horror movies for a gratuitous scare.  Still Alice is a horror story for older folks, with the added twist of being a real threat.  Still, it was worth watching.  There is life with Alzheimer's.  You just appreciate it a lot more.