Bioethics Blogs

Still Alice: A Portrait of Familial Alzheimer’s Disease

by Craig M. Klugman, Ph.D.

This past weekend I spent a cold, snowy day in the theater watching the movie Still Alice. Julianne Moore plays Alice Howland, a renowned neurolinguistics professor at Columbia University who is diagnosed with familial, early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. The film opens with Howland celebrating her 50th birthday where she has a momentary lapse in thought. We next see her giving a lecture at UCLA where she loses her place in giving a presentation. Then she is jogging through the campus where she has taught for decades and finds that she recognizes nothing.

The film shows Moore’s doctor visits as she seeks a diagnosis, her heartbreaking revealing of her disease to her family members, and how she and her life changes dramatically—and in a brief period of time—as she becomes someone else. The change in her persona, and the brilliance of Moore’s acting, is made evident when Alice-with-advancing-Alzheimer’s stumbles upon a video of newly-diagnosed-Alice. Seeing later-stage Alice watch her earlier self provides a side-by-side comparison that shows the viewer not only how dramatic the change has been, but also how seamlessly her decline happened so that we were not aware of how much Alice had changed.

The film is based on a New York Times fiction bestseller and multiple award winner, Still Alice by Lisa Genova, a writer and actor with a neuroscience Ph.D. from Harvard. She self-published the novel and sold it out of her car for a year before it was picked up by Simon & Schuster. In the book, Howland is a professor at Harvard living in Cambridge and the story is told completely from Alice’s point-of-view.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.