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At the age of fifty, Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) has everything she wants: a prestigious job as a linguistics professor, a loving husband (Alec Baldwin), and three grown-up children. Life doesn’t seem about to slow down any time soon. But then Alice begins experiencing some unnerving memory lapses, and after a series of tests, she receives the devastating news that she has early-onset Alzheimer’s.
The disease, which she may have passed on to her children, will gradually take away her memories until she no longer knows who she is. For this sharp, competent, independent woman, it’s a crushing blow, and only her youngest daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart) seems to really understand. As Alice goes into decline, she and those who love her must come to terms with everything they’re going to lose.
- What was your first reaction to the film, and why? How much did you know about it before going in, and was it what you expected?
- How do the filmmakers communicate Alice’s experience through the shooting style of the film? What techniques do they use, and how successful are these in evoking the first-hand experience of Alzheimer’s?
- What did you think of Julianne Moore’s central performance? What qualities does she bring to the role of Alice, and how does she portray each stage of the character’s decline? Do you think she was deserving of the Best Actress Oscar?
- The directors aimed to give the film a ‘crisp and direct tone’. Do you think that they achieved this, and what might make it an appropriate way of approaching the story? Can you think of any films with tragic subject matter which are the opposite of ‘crisp and direct’? What might be the pitfalls and advantages of each approach?
- How does the film portray Alice’s relationships with her family members? Why do you think that she and Lydia grow closer after her diagnosis?
- Which scenes in Still Alice did you find the most powerful and moving, and why? How did you feel when you left the cinema, and what lasting impact might the film have on you?
‘I wish I had cancer. I wouldn’t feel so ashamed.’ – Alice
Why might there by more ‘shame’ associated with neurological or mental illnesses than with physical ones? How does our culture perceive people with Alzheimer’s, and does the film do anything to overturn these perceptions?
‘I feel like I can’t find myself. I’ve always been so defined by my intellect.’ – Alice
- How is Alice ‘defined by her intellect’, and what challenges does this raise for her as her mental function becomes impaired? To what extent does our culture define people by their intellect, or by their other competencies? What implications might this have when these competencies are lost, whether because of illness, age, or something else?
‘You’re a better man than I am.’ – John, to Lydia
- What did you make of John, Alice’s husband? How does he view Alice’s decline, and in your view, is he right not to take a break from his own career? Is he right to consider Lydia’s reaction ‘better’ than his own, and is there any ‘right’ response to the kind of situation which Alice’s family are in?
- Some critics questioned Still Alice‘s decision to foreground a younger, more ‘photogenic’ Alzheimer’s sufferer, given that the condition is far more prevalent in older people.In your view, does the film imply that Alice’s situation is particularly tragic because she is young, and would it be wrong to do so? To what extent might Alice’s privileged life circumstances (wealth, education, a supportive family) lead to a skewed view on what it’s like to live with Alzheimer’s?
- Does the film draw any conclusions about the topic of euthanasia? How does it present Alice’s attempt to set up her future suicide, and the eventual outcome of this plan? Does Still Alice have anything to say about what ultimately makes life worth living, or what makes human beings intrinsically valuable?
‘How can others take us seriously? But this is not who we are.’ – Alice
- Does the film draw any conclusions about whether Alice is really ‘still Alice’ by the end of the story? In your view, is there any such thing as an intrinsic personal identity which can’t be destroyed, even if our memories are? If so, what constitutes this identity – and if not, what deeper problems might this raise for what it means to be human?
‘Nothing’s lost forever. In this world, there’s a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead.’ – Tony Kushner, Angels in America
- Lydia reads this speech from the play Angels in America in the film’s final scene. How does it resonate with Alice’s situation, and what final message does it leave the audience with? How do you interpret the idea that ‘nothing’s lost forever’, and in what sense – if any – might this be true?