Monday, June 29, 2015

"Still Alice", the film

Finally the film "Still Alice" was seen here.  It was not necessarily the right movie for everyone in this household to view.  Late last night was my chance.

This film, as most likely know, is about a successful 50 year old Columbia University linguistics professor, Alice, who is struck by early onset Alzheimer's disease.  Julianne Moore won best actress at the Oscar's for her portrayal of the afflicted woman.  Alec Baldwin, who seems to be in just about every other film seen here in the last year, played her husband.  The movie, as expected, starts out with this diagnosis as a complete surprise, then moves to well managed despair, and then progresses to the inevitable terrible deficits that those who have this disease experience.

Familiar here with both elderly relatives who have been through this experience with dementia as well as a variation of the younger version, there were interesting things learned.  At least according to the "film doctor", the younger a person is when they get the disease the faster it accelerates, however counter intuitive that may seem.  In addition, the smarter and more professionally trained one is, the acceleration can be more advanced.  This may or may not be a physical condition, or rather is the fact that those with more youthful vigor or more trained and practiced professional discipline, they are not recognized as having the disease and being diagnosed until it has already progressed in much more than a minor way.

The film gave a good picture of this incurable syndrome, the fact that there are good days and bad days, unpredictable and often not possible for outsiders to recognize at all in the early and even mid stages.  There are plateaus that get accustomed to for periods of time, and permanent declines that can come unexpectedly.  There is emphatically only one ultimate direction with this disease as the film and any doctor makes clear.

One meaningful exchange in the film is when the husband, Baldwin's character, gets a chance for a significant and long awaited promotion which would require a move to Rochester, New York.  He is enthusiastic.  Alice cannot relate to how that is possible.  How could she leave the things that she can still relate to and start over?

Also part of the slow discovery of what the ramifications of the disease are is that some dementia types are genetically inherited, and Alice's three twenty something children were all DNA tested and one learned that she had the genetic defect.  That's certainly more for people in this situation to think about.  A cure is surely needed, to say the obvious.

In a speech that she struggled to make to an Alzheimer's group, using a yellow highlighter to mark her blunt speech as she highlighted each word in order to avoid repetition, Alice described herself as "not suffering, but struggling".

A notable aspect of this film was that the family, while all significantly emotionally affected by Alice's condition, was a completely functional and relatively wealthy one.  The two parents had highly successful careers, the three adult children were well adjusted and healthy, and their lives were full.  The first takeaway from this is that the disease can affect anyone,no matter how healthy, how emotionally well supported, or how successful.  Then the thought arrives that this was an almost perfect family, and how much greater is the toll on a family with any other significant issues, less wealth, less of an extended family, and less social cohesion.

This is a valuable film about a clearly difficult subject, a subject that is far more widespread in both its direct and tangential impact than may be generally recognized, even now.

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