Note: I am about to reread this blog post after writing it yesterday afternoon. I am almost certain that it is going to be incredibly disjointed and scattered, because my emotions were just that after watching the film. I’ve decided not to edit the post to make it more coherent though – what you are about to read is my stream of consciousness, so please take it for what it is and enjoy the depth of feeling throughout! JNG ❤
My mom and I just finished watching the new film adaptation of Lisa Genova’s novel Still Alice and, as it’s been such a long time since my last blog entry (SO sorry – things at work have been super busy and I’m taking on many new time-consuming tasks every day!), I thought it would be important to document my thoughts quickly. The movie was an incredibly emotional one and I want my response to it to be visceral and immediate.
I should start by saying that my mom is absolutely obsessed with the novel Still Alice. She wasn’t much of a reader at all (surprising, I know, considering that I’m actually her daughter!) until she read Genova’s book and became so deeply connected to Alice. I was taking a linguistics course in my first year of university at the time, and my mom was so excited to be able to understand a bit about that subject. But she also felt as though she truly understood Alice…it almost seemed like she was living Alice’s life with her, and I found her crying on the couch with book in hand many a time during those days that she read the novel. She asked me to read it as soon as she finished, and I did. I won’t say that it was one of my favourite books, but I got why my mom was so upset over it: Genova writes with such detail about Alice’s struggles that it’s hard not to be terrified and moved.
Watching the movie was a similar experience. Obviously Julianne Moore is amazing in the role (all the awards she’s won are evidence enough), but I naturally felt really touched by the way Kristen Stewart portrayed Alice’s daughter Lydia. I’m a huge K.Stew fan (and NOT ashamed to admit it!) because I think she’s super cool, and I often speak in a monotone voice as well, usually because things displease me and I’m trying to restrain myself from yelling. So, I respect her as an actress and I like her general vibe. Having said that, she is actually so good in this role. As a daughter of an incredibly strong and inspiring mother, I could totally relate to her character…and I appreciated the fact that she seemed to suffer through her mother’s illness but also that she didn’t baby Alice, that she still treated her like the intelligent human being she is. I just really enjoyed the mother-daughter dynamic that evolves throughout the film.
And I was so happy to watch the movie with my own mom, for that reason. I’m glad we get to share in the experience of this story because I would absolutely, without doubt always be there for my mother. I would sacrifice and give up anything for her…because she is my best friend and my everything. I understand why Lydia would move in with Alice, care for and comfort her, because I have done that for my mom and I will continue to do that for her for my entire life. It’s the easiest job I’ll ever have because I love her so much! And because she supports me like no one else on this planet. So, I love what this movie did with Alice and Lydia and how it represented their complicated mutual respect and affection.
And I do love how the movie represented Alice individually…even though it absolutely terrified me! You’ve probably all figured this out by now, but I’m a bit of an academic sort, so I’ve (until very recently) defined myself by my brain and intellect. I could tell you my grade in every class I’ve taken from grade 9 right through to the end of my Master’s. I was such a dedicated student and I thought for a long time that my good grades, my high GPA and my scholarships were the most important and significant part of me. I thought my academic success was my only real talent. It took me many anxiety attacks, a lot of personal growth and numerous pep talks from my amazing mother to realize that this wasn’t the case – but life is a work in progress, so I still find myself lapsing into wondering if I should do my PhD so as to achieve academic “perfection” and into wishing I had written a certain essay differently so that I might’ve earned one or two percents more. This is clearly a destructive way of thinking, and I’ve given it up for the most part, but I still prize my brain and love it dearly. So, it was hard to watch Alice, an esteemed professor, deal with Alzheimer’s disease. It was unsettling and troubling to see her lose her memory, and so lose the one tool that had helped her create such an impressive career. I know that Alice should not be defined for her brain – she is, after all, still Alice when she loses her memories – but it was easy for me to understand why she would mourn this loss, this death of sorts.
I can only sort of fathom what it would be like to have Alzheimer’s. During my high school days, I volunteered weekly at a nursing home across the street from my house, and I specifically worked with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. I was a teenager at the time (and I hadn’t entered university so I didn’t quite know how important my own brain would be to me yet), but I could still somehow comprehend the frustration of the men and women I worked with. Even though they couldn’t remember exactly why they were frustrated, they did seem to sense that a part of themselves was out of reach. I saw them forget their loved ones, and what simple household objects were, and even their own names, and it was scary. But it was also so important for me to see that they were still human, that they still felt things and dreamed and imagined. Their emotions never went away or were stifled, even where their minds faltered.
So, memories are important, no doubt about it. But, I am starting to see that it’s more important to have made them, and to have shared in experiences with others, than to remember every detail of every one. Alice has her memories and her knowledge…they exist in reality and in the minds of others who have had the pleasure to live with and beside her…and so she’ll never lose any of it entirely!
Girl with a Green Heart