Many critics and members of the general public anticipate that when the Academy Award winners are announced on Sunday, Julianne Moore will be taking home the best actress Oscar for her portrayal of a woman with early onset Alzheimer’s disease in “Still Alice.” Count me among them.
Moore already has earned numerous honors—including Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globes trophies—for her portrayal of 50-year-old Columbia University linguistics professor Alice Howland in the film adaptation of Lisa Genova’s best-selling novel of the same name. The movie continued to open across the country on Friday, and I finally was able to see it then when it premiered in Cleveland.
I won’t include any spoilers in this blog, although the film’s trajectory will be familiar to those who have experienced dementia through family, friends or profession. Alice struggles to find the words to express herself, gets lost on a jog she has completed many times in the past and gradually sees her life changing until she appears lost in her own mind.
That familiarity is what makes “Still Alice” a love letter to professional and family caregivers everywhere. For those who have not encountered Alzheimer’s, the movie provides a glimpse into what caregivers already know: the disease’s symptoms, the tests used to help diagnose it, the coping mechanisms those with Alzheimer’s use to try to delay the inevitable decline as long as possible, the ways in which long-term living communities try to maintain safety and quality of life for those with the disease, the many ways in which caregivers react, and the small and large sacrifices people make for their loved ones.
Longer term, the film may spur benefits for the more than five million Americans who have dementia (and 39 million others around the world who have it) and for their caregivers. The My Brain movement of the Alzheimer’s Association, in conjunction with the movie’s release, is educating women and encouraging them to advocate for research funding and caregiver support. The campaign, involving Moore, “Still Alice” Executive Producer Maria Shriver and others, focuses on women because almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease are women, and more than 60 percent of caregivers to those who have dementia are women, according to the association.