Thursday, February 26, 2015

"Still Alice" resonates; we all know someone like Alice

Went to see Still Alice this afternoon with girlfriends, motivated by Julianne Moore’s Academy Award for best actress.  This beautiful, sad movie tells how a family deals with a declining mom -- a once brilliant Columbia University linguistics professor who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s in her early 50s. 
            Shock comes with the diagnosis and powers the sadness and unfairness of loss.  It seems so abrupt. Both Alice and her husband, Dr. John Howland, are at the top of their games, in the early stages of empty nesting, when she starts losing it.
What a difference a decade or two make. The 60 plus crowd I now swing with is all too aware of diminishment and loss.
On the ride home, we talked about those we knew – and we all knew someone or several someones – whom the story reminded us of, whether the debilitation was from Alzheimer’s or other neurological diseases.
            Alice gives a speech about her disease and her losses to an empathetic audience at an Alzheimer’s Association audience.  In it, she partially quotes a poem by Elizabeth Bishop titled One Art. While the villanelle was written by Bishop on the occasion of the suicide of her lover, it is an extraordinary poem about practicing loss yet never being prepared for it, one appropriate for all kinds of losing.  Several years ago, I shared with a friend who was losing her husband to dementia, one of those the movie brought to my mind:

One Art
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

On a separate note, I was pleasantly surprised by the performance of Kristen Stewart as Lydia—one of Alice’s three children. I was prepared for Moore’s brilliant work – given the well-deserved Oscar.   But I admit to having dismissed Stewart as that actress in those romance/vampire movies. Not terribly serious and not likely to be one whose work would engage me given my age.  This movie changed that impression.

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