“Everything she did and love, everything she was, required language.”
“Her ability to use language, that thing that most separates humans from animals, was leaving her, and she was feeling less and less human as it departed.”
― Lisa Genova, Still Alice
Dr. Alice Howland is a linguistics professor at Columbia University. She is 50 years old and happily married to a physician, John, with whom she has three adult children. One day, while she is giving a lecture, Alice ironically forgets the word “lexicon”, and that’s only the beginning of a long, shocking journey: her doctor, indeed, diagnoses her with early onset familial Alzheimer’s disease.
In order to slow it down, Alice memorizes words she writes on a blackboard, and sets a series of personal questions on her phone which she answers every morning. But as her disease advances, Alice becomes unable to give focused lectures and eventually loses her job. She feels lost.
We chose Still Alice as the Cinema fix of this week because it explores very well themes of personal identity and how loss of language can equate to loss of the individual – especially for someone whose job is dealing with linguistics. For instance, there is a remarkable scene in which Alice gives a lecture on early childhood language development. In this, she emphasizes that words and self-expression can shape a person’s identity: the ability to effectively use language can lead a person to gain respect and understanding.
The speech may seem pretty ordinary for a linguistics professor like Alice, but it actually introduces the core aspects of her identity struggle throughout the entire film: as it is her case, in fact, Alzheimer’s patients gradually lose the ability to remember – and consequently to speak words.
“Having been defined by her keen intelligence and dexterity with language, Alice finds the very core of her being slipping away – she fumbles lectures at work, struggles with the word-search game she plays obsessively on her mobile, and increasingly finds herself lost in a once-familiar world”, writes Mark Kermode, Observer film critic, for The Guardian.
A novel, a movie:
As a 2014 American drama film, Still Alice was written and directed by Richard Glazer and Wash Westmoreland, starring Julianne Moore as Alice and Alec Baldwin as her husband John. It received critical acclaim, and Moore won both the Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture. But as it usually happens with cinema, Still Alice was first a bestselling novel of the same name by Lisa Genova, and just later a good movie too.
Check the video below to watch a significant scene from the movie:
- http://post.browndailyherald.com. 2015. Still Alice; Losing Memory, Language, and Self. [ONLINE] Available at: http://post.browndailyherald.com/2015/02/20/still-alice/. [Accessed 23 November 15].
Written by Eva Barros Campelli
Communication trainee at TermCoord
Italian journalist, trained at the London School of Journalism