"I can see the words hanging in front of me and I can't reach them and I don't know who I am and I don't know what I'm gonna loose next."
It’s safe to say that Julianne Moore has been massively successful on nearly every level of her career. Just to give one example, she’s arguably the standout of PT Anderson’s Magnolia, a film that features Tom Cruise, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, William H Macy and John C Reilly. And that was just a supporting role. Here she takes up the lead role to give one of the most beautiful and haunting performances of recent memory.
A linguistics professor Alice Howland (Moore) who has recently turns fifty and is happily married as well as being a mother of three suddenly has her life turned upside down when she begins to suffer from memory lapses. These symptoms are diagnosed as early signs of Alzheimer’s disease and now she has to try and retain her own identity and memories.
There’s also no denying that this film was always going to raise delicate subjects. Moore’s performance has to cover many things here, as well as the various stages of the disease she gives us a picture of a proud and intelligent woman. These early impressions that she expertly exudes only make it more heart-breaking as her mind itself is compromised. It’s also a very subdued portrayal of the character, diving straight into the role but not to the extent of being flashy and over the top. It’s quiet for a majority of the film, and that’s what makes it so spectacular in its own way.
While it’s rare for this disease to affect someone this young it’s not unheard of. Here we see a bleak version of events and the repercussions from almost every angle. Not only is there the issue of her own mind decaying, but there’s a 50/50 chance that her children will inherit the disease from her as well. The tragedy of it is highlighted as Alice could not have seen this coming, as her own mother dies when she was young.
The family that surrounds her are also portrayed expertly and combined with the excellent writing they do feel genuine. Alec Baldwin as Alice’s husband John is a prime example. Too many films with a similar premise involve the spouse leaving their partner as they encounter difficulties. Here Baldwin stays with her throughout and is supportive, like a genuine person who cares and will do what someone who loves a person would do. This is also the best performance I’ve ever seen from Kristen Stewart.
There’s a great precision and sensitivity to this screenplay as well. There are very few false steps and because the majority is so good one could almost forgive it for those few times that it does. But it does occasionally, for a start there are some repetitive moments in the film, and I understand that it does need to create that effect to hammer the message across, but sometimes it feels as if they’re using a sledgehammer to do it. There’s also one oddly redundant scene in which Stewart’s character performs a Chekov play).
But I am nit-picking here. It would be easy to forget, amid the amazing performances, that there are also some impressive directorial techniques on display here from Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer. The use of spinning cameras and blurred images make the deterioration of Alice’s brain a cinematographically impressive spectacle. As the film, and the condition, progresses these effects also progress in a similar fashion, just in case you had any doubts over the severity of this situation.
The end of this film is also emotionally ambiguous, not to give anything away. I do love a film that has the confidence to not manipulate the viewer over what to feel at the end, instead you can decide what emotional level the end result of Alice’s journey reaches.
So not only is this the performance of Julianne Moore’s career but it also proves to be emotionally resounding and deeply thoughtful thanks to an incredible screenplay and interesting direction.