What this movie does is invoke every experience you’ve had in dealing with loved ones suffering from dementia. That makes it a fairly powerful emotional experience in itself. But the film’s treatment of early-onset Alzheimer’s, and its effect on immediate family, deserves its own hearing.
Dr. Alice Howland (Julianne Moore)
is an intelligent, energetic, ambitious achiever, who, by age 50, has carved out
for herself an astoundingly successful academic career as the linguistics
But she’s about to have far more time on her hands than she would like. She first starts to notice something’s wrong when she gets lost on her daily run. It’s a route she manages without even thinking about; the trouble is, she can’t seem to get her mind in gear right now. Then she experiences the dreaded gaffe during a lecture: the deer-caught-in-the-headlights moment when she loses her train of thought in the middle of a sentence. The first medical tests are inconclusive, but as she continues to experience memory loss, she persists in the testing, and finally has a confirmed diagnosis: early-onset Alzheimer’s. It’s genetic. It’s familial. She probably got it from her father, whom she long ago dismissed as a raging alcoholic who drank himself into oblivion, but now she’s having to re-evaluate her long-held assumption (and judgment). And, she has to tell her children that they’re at risk, also, and it’s their decision if they wish to get tested or not.
The oldest, Anna (Kate Bosworth),
decides to get tested, and discovers she has the damnable gene, but is
determined to go through with her plan of raising a family with her husband. But
even the birth of her twins becomes a bittersweet moment, as she wonders how
long she’ll be able to hold up as a Mother.
The son, Tom (Hunter Parrish), refuses to be tested (and at first is in
denial about his Mother, as well), while the youngest, Lydia (Kristen Stewart),
a determined under-achiever who won’t go to college and contents herself doing
obscure theater work, isn’t at risk herself, but she’s the one who does the
most to take care of Mom as she descends into her darkness.
Her Dad wants to take that big out-of-town promotion which would further
his career, all right, but also make him much less available to Alice, who’s
now quickly spiraling down. First
she can’t conduct her classes any more, and is on leave from the University,
but she’s not going to return. She
can barely remember who she is, or who anybody around her is.
She thinks something happened yesterday that actually happened last
month. She can’t remember
appointments, even to her doctor (
Julianne Moore’s performance is well-deserving of the Golden Globe nomination, but the script, which follows the book, is limited by stopping the story before things get really awful at the end, which makes the narrative frustratingly incomplete. But those of us who have lived through this with our own loved ones will definitely recognize the dynamics. And it will evoke some of our latent grieving over them, which isn’t exactly pleasurable viewing. But it does make us thankful that right now, at least, we still have our faculties, which means there is always hope.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Parish Associate, Woodhaven