“Alice” offers shallow, unwatchable depiction of Alzheimer’s

by Louis Johnson

johnsonlo@mnstate.edu

When I was in my teens, my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. For several years, I watched as he slowly degraded into someone with the mental capacity of a child. It was one of the most awful things I have ever experienced. So when I read that the film “Still Alice” was about the disease, I was immediately interested. But to my disappointment, “Still Alice” is hardly worth watching.

“Still Alice” is another entry into the monstrosity that is modern American cinema. It isn’t a film, it’s a product. It’s a movie made to sell tickets, and not for any sort of artistic expression. It’s a sappy film made to appeal to the lowest common denominator who think actors crying and pianos constantly playing is an adequate substitute for human emotion.

The characters in the film are defined not by their personalities but by their roles — the mother, the loving husband, the rebellious daughter. These characters never shape their identities past these archetypes, and as an audience member, I am somehow expected to care about them. 

The first thing I noticed when the movie started was just how ugly the sets are. Ripped right out of an Ikea catalogue, all the interiors, exteriors and furniture are filled with horribly ugly modernist architecture. The placement of things like dishes and furniture feels like it was arranged in a matter to be photographed rather than to create a realistic living space. The set just looks like one big advertisement. 

There’s a disturbing amount of product placement in the film, especially with Apple laptops and iPhones. This action movie-level product placement is completely inappropriate in a story about someone dying from a disease.

There are many scenes that include unnecessary shots of characters taking out their phones, followed by close ups to see that they are indeed holding the new iPhone 6.

There’s one scene where Alice (Julianne Moore) is in the park with her daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart). The scene starts with Lydia looking at her phone, then she puts it away and turns to Alice to talk to her. There was no reason to start the scene with her holding her iPhone. The worst part is every time someone texts, the sounds of the iPhone were dubbed in. Thats right, a post production team went in and put in sounds so you could really get the whole iPhone experience.

It’s really insulting to me as someone who had a family member suffer through Alzheimer’s disease that the directors felt it was appropriate to have so much product placement in the film. Clearly making money is a bigger focus for them.

As far as the plot goes, it’s pretty much what you’d expect. Alice gets Alzheimer’s, her family and friends are sad, and that’s it. Theres no realizations or questions. It’s a shallow depiction of the disease and a shallow attempt at storytelling.

Alice is a self-made upper class woman who is incredibly successful and married to an incredibly successful man, played by Alec Baldwin. She has three beautiful kids, played by Stewart, Kate Bosworth and Hunter Parrish. Two of her kids are successful and the third is a struggling actor who receives financial help from her dad. This family basically has it made. Alice has lived a perfect life and given birth to three children that all look like models. How am I supposed to sympathize with a person who has everything anyone could ask for?

It is mentioned that Alice lost her mother and sister in a car accident when she was young, and her father was an alcoholic. However, the audience is only told these things. We never see the pain Alice went through because of the loss of her family or the pain of having an alcoholic parent. The film ignores a basic rule of filmmaking: show, don’t tell.

As an audience member, I was only told to care. I was only told to understand this woman had overcome hardship in her life. But when the movie starts, she already has everything. She has an expensive house, the perfect husband and beautiful children. Her life is set. Even when she gets diagnosed and slowly loses her mind, it doesn’t feel tragic. I didn’t experience struggle, I only experienced perfection. She’s already accomplished all she could in her life. In a world of child soldiers, the Holocaust and nuclear weapons, the struggle of an upper class woman who lived comfortably most of her life isn’t much of a tragedy.

“Still Alice” reminds of another film I recently saw called “The Hunt,” a 2012 Danish number directed by Thomas Vinterberg. The films are similar in that they are both tragedies and show a slice of life. However, “The Hunt” is genuine European cinema and not American “cinema” that cares more about iPhones than plot.

The film focuses on a man who works in a kindergarten. While he isn’t necessarily down and out, he isn’t exactly in the greatest situation. He is in the middle of an ugly custody battle with his ex-wife, and for the most part lives a boring, uneventful and somewhat pathetic life. Seeing his struggles, the audience sympathizes with him. As the movie goes on, he begins to date one of his co-workers, and his son decides he wants to live with him. When things seem to finally start going his way, one of the children he works with falsely accuses him of sexual assault. This completely ruins his life and the remainder of the film focuses on him trying to put his life back together.

It’s a fantastic movie and I recommend checking it out. “Still Alice” is similar thematically as both films are focused on people whose lives are destroyed by something out of their control. However, “Still Alice” feels vapid and empty with its lack of characterization and relatable characters.

This following paragraph contains a spoiler, but since the movie is terrible I recommend reading it instead of watching the film itself.

*SPOILER* At the end of the film, Lydia moves back home to take care of Alice. The final scene in the movie is of her reading a story to Alice, who at this point can barely speak. After Lydia is done with the story she asks if Alice knew what the story was about. Alice, in her now childlike state, mutters “love.” Then the movie ends.

This is the most idiotic ending they could have had. “Love?” The filmmakers attempt to shove this corny silver lining down our throats. She may have been afflicted by this horrible disease but at least she remembers love. I have seen what happens to people with this disease, and there is no silver lining. Your mind rots away but your body continues to exist for years. When my grandfather went through the disease, there certainly was no silver lining. It’s a sappy ending that once again attempts to appeal to the lowest common denominator. *END SPOILER*

“Still Alice” is a sanitized, PG-13, Hallmark movie look at Alzheimer’s disease and raises no existential or moral questions. It tells the audience that it’s supposed to be sad, but never bothers to explain why. Oh, and go get the iPhone 6.

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