‘Still Alice’ urges us to live in the moment

“Still Alice” (2014). Cast: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish, Shane McRae, Stephen Kunken, Caridad Montanez, Erin Drake, Daniel Gerroll. Directors: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. Screenplay: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. Book: Lisa Genova, Still Alice. Web site. Trailer.

Most of us probably go through life expecting it to continue on, almost in perpetuity, without anything ever coming along to disturb that pattern. But the virtual certainty of change generally doesn’t allow this. Sometimes it even violently shakes us out of our sameness and complacency, taking us places we never would have expected and reminding us of what we have – and what we might stand to lose. Those lessons are driven home with stark poignancy in the dramatic new release, “Still Alice.”

Dr. Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) has been experiencing some unexpected, unexplained lapses of late. The renowned 50-year-old linguistics professor has found herself uncharacteristically lost for words at times, something that she initially chalks up to a nagging embarrassment. However, when these seemingly innocent nuisance moments begin to combine with a pattern of routinely losing or misplacing items, she grows concerned. And, when she suddenly finds herself lost in the midst of what should be familiar surroundings, she becomes downright scared.

After a series of visits with a neurologist (Stephen Kunken), Alice receives some shocking news: She learns she has developed Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease, a particularly devastating form of the condition that strikes people in the prime of life, often seemingly out of the blue. Its symptoms tend to progress rather rapidly, too – and frequently with greater speed amongst those of higher intellect. For a university professor like Alice, a diagnosis like that is utterly devastating.

To make matters worse, Alice learns that this form of the disease is genetic and that there’s a chance she may have transmitted the trait to her three children, Anna (Kate Bosworth), Tom (Hunter Parrish) and Lydia (Kristen Stewart), all of whom are now adults. This news is especially difficult for Anna, considering that she and her husband, Charlie (Shane McRae), are seeking to start a family of their own – and now run the risk of passing along the gene for the disease to their children.

In spite of this news, however, Alice vows to fight and carry on as best she can. She continues teaching and speaking as long as she’s able to, and she spends a great deal of time with her family, especially Lydia, an aspiring actress whom Alice feels is adrift in her own way. And so, with the support of her children and her adoring husband, John (Alec Baldwin), Alice valiantly does her best to cope with her condition. Unfortunately, no matter how much Alice struggles, she’s facing a future whose outcome is already known.

For those who engage in acts of conscious creation, the means by which we create our reality through the power of our beliefs and intents, one can’t help but wonder why someone would employ the practice in a way such as this. What is to be gained from such a pursuit? In short, why would anyone want to create a reality like this?

Manifestations such as these truly test the resolve of conscious creation practitioners, and the intents underlying their materialization may only be known to those who bring those realities into being. An “outside” observer may be genuinely perplexed about the nature of such creations and question the choices behind them. But those who manifest them ultimately have their reasons, even if the rest of us don’t fully understand their motivations.

It’s often been speculated that all of the creations we realize are related to life lessons we’ve chosen to learn and experiences we’ve decided to undergo before incarnating. If that’s true, such circumstances would of necessity involve the materialization of all elements of our lives, including those we consider both “positive” (such as career accomplishments and domestic happiness) and “negative” (such as illness and heartache). The “wisdom” of those choices may be debated by those looking on from afar, but the reasons behind them can only truly be known by those who birth them. Those witnessing the unfolding of these manifestations would thus be wise to withhold judgment, for they may not be able to appreciate and understand the experiences their creators are seeking. The journeys of our souls take us to many diverse destinations throughout our lives, including those that disappoint, as well as those that delight, along the way.

So why has Alice created the circumstances she’s manifested? Again, her reasons are her own, but some clues related to her own brand of special wisdom are revealed during her odyssey, insights that we could all benefit from.

In the midst of her ordeal, with her mental cognition and concentration fading, Alice manages to work up the gumption to give a presentation at an Alzheimer’s Association conference. In the course of her talk, she waxes philosophically about what her condition has taught her, namely, the art of learning how to live in the moment. It’s a concept whose importance can’t be stressed enough, for the moment at hand is the only thing we have access to at any given time. And, in many ways, Alice’s wisdom thus echoes one of the cornerstone principles of conscious creation, the notion that “the present is the point of power.”

If we lose sight of that principle, we run the risk of losing sight of ourselves. That’s crucial for all of us, but it’s especially critical for someone like Alice, who admits that her condition has made her an expert in “losing things.” And, even though she tries to hold on to those memories that are slipping away, she’ll gladly sacrifice them as long as she can continue to retain her awareness of what really matters most.

The pain of an affliction like this is arguably hardest on those who are left behind. They remember the person who has slipped away, and the loss is devastating. As for the patient, since we don’t have access to his or her consciousness, we can only speculate as to where it has gone. One would hope that whatever new adventures he or she has embarked upon will bring whatever fulfillment is being sought for the soul’s continued growth and evolution. Godspeed.

“Still Alice” is an excellent showcase for Moore, who gives one of the best performances of her career. Her portrayal has already earned her honors in the Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award competitions, as well as an Oscar nod and nominations in the Screen Actors Guild and Independent Spirit Award contests, all of which she is expected to sweep. But, perhaps just as important, the film is an informative, enlightening vehicle about this condition, shedding light on a subject that has heretofore received comparatively little attention.

However, despite these strengths, much of the rest of the film feels a little underdeveloped, both in its narrative and character development, especially among the supporting players and their relationships. In fact, the only connection that feels fully fleshed out is the one between Alice and Lydia. This is somewhat surprising in light of the picture’s relatively short 99-minute runtime. Taking a little more time to elaborate on these elements might have helped to elevate a good film to the level of greatness to which it aspires.

Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell reminded us “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” For those suffering with conditions like Alzheimer’s Disease (not to mention those burdened with the sadness of witnessing their loved ones going through it), we’d be wise to heed those words, especially when it comes to our awareness of living in the moment. The present is a time that will not come again, so we should make the most of it while we have the chance – and the wherewithal to shape it to our liking.

Copyright © 2015, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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