Saturday, February 14, 2015

Still Alice (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Still Alice

"Still Alice," based on a Lisa Genova novel, unfolds swiftly and inexorably like a horror film. Alice (Julianne Moore) is a high-pressure  professor of linguistics. She teaches at Columbia University. Students and faculty alike hang on her every word. Then one morning, during a lecture and seemingly at random, she suddenly can't find the words.

Alec Baldwin once again is in-type as a hassled distant control freak of a husband who can't make sense of it all, while Kate Bosworth and Kristen Stewart are her self-absorbed daughters, Anna and Lydia.

Step by step, we learn of Alice's quirks, habits and solid routine. She is a doer, a woman of studious action. Her face is like a wedge of confrontation in some scenes. Invariably, she is ready to face the day, letting it roll smoothly beneath her feet.

During a birthday party she mixes up the name of her daughter Anna's fiancé. Carried by the joy of the moment, she doesn't think anything of it.

Then after not finding obvious words during a routine lecture, she visits a neurologist (Stephen Kunken). After a series of name and word tests, the doctor orders a PET scan.

The diagnosis of Alzheimer's, especially at first, appears malevolent and arbitrary, akin to an evil spirit. But then, Alice steels herself, writing lists on a kitchen blackboard and elsewhere. She becomes like Alice in Wonderland, creating labels and names for her own personal objects that mutate before her like odd mushrooms. In one segment, puffy and pillow-like tablets, transform into angry red gumdrops and candy, now threatening because of losing description.

The open flexibility in Alice's face becomes a granite ax, white on white. She faces a uncertain sea, at war with a field of forgetfulness.

As in Kafka's "The Metamorphosis," family members distance themselves. John, the husband, takes a position at Mayo Clinic and Anna is preoccupied with being a new mom.

The iron of the film is due to Moore who at times resembles a warrior shark, while at others she is a bereft young girl that misplaced her reflection beyond hope.

Credit should be given to director Wash Westmoreland who gives us just enough information with small scenes that crackle with a rapidity of motion similar to suspense. He also has the good sense to leave out the inclement weather of sentimentality for the most part.

At its core, Alice stands at the ready, come what may. In one instant, she is Sherlock Holmes, patient and clinical, only to suddenly change into a kind of Rosemary Woodhouse (of Rosemary's Baby), a caring mother terrified and unhinged by an insidious blankness not to be understood or deserved.

Through the ordeal we never lose the humanness of Alice as a person. This is the charm  of "Still Alice," elevating it above a kind of medical scare film and pointing to Julianne Moore in a singular performance that is worthy of an Oscar.

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