Greetings again from the darkness. I’ve never understood the phrase “cruel disease”. Are there diseases that aren’t cruel? One could say the level of cruelty is determined by how the disease affects you and your loved ones, but a stunning performance by Julianne Moore provides a glimpse of what Alzheimer’s does to those afflicted. She shows us what it’s like when we are robbed of what makes us who we are. And yes, it’s very cruel.
Most “disease” movies spend a significant amount of effort demonstrating how this will affect the victim’s family and friends, but co-directors Richard Glazer and Wash Westmoreland have adapted Lisa Genova’s novel to focus on Alice (Ms. Moore) … her family is mostly trotted out to help the viewer understand how the disease has progressed. We first meet Alice on her 50th birthday, and soon learn she is a brilliant Linguistics Professor at Columbia and has 3 brilliant kids (Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish) and a brilliant husband (Alec Baldwin). These are brilliant, successful and beautiful people. And that’s one of the points here … Alzheimer’s doesn’t pick on the poor, the slow or the weak. It doesn’t discriminate at all (other than a slightly higher rate amongst women).
Julianne Moore somehow is equally effective as the energetic, very confident professor and the shell of a person with vacant eyes who only periodically recognizes the face in the mirror or the faces at the family meal. This is a movie and a performance about moments … moments of panic, isolation, and one particular moment of unleashed emotion when Alice comes clean to her husband early on. We hear the fading of her verbal skills (in her speeches) and we witness the slow fail of her body (she was once a runner). It’s torturous to hear and see.
There have been other movies that touched on Alzheimer’s: The Notebook (2004), The Savages (2007), and Away From Her (2007), but Julianne Moore is the first to take us inside, to force us to feel the slow loss of self. It’s painful, and yes it’s cruel.
**NOTE: that is Julianne Moore’s son (with director Bart Freundlich) playing guitar on the park bench near the end of the movie