Archetypes: Film: Review: ‘Still Alice’ (2014)

Sony Pictures Classics

Sony Pictures Classics

Physical aging is often a blatant visual affront, but the brain’s wearing way can be much more subtle. In Still Alice, co-written and co-directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, linguistics professor Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) experiences the first clue to her mental degeneration when she can’t put her finger on a specific word while giving a speech.

That forgotten word – “lexicon,” or a treasured vocabulary’s storage place – sets up Mercury, the god of thought, speech and communication, as the archetypal heart of the movie that’s based on the novel by Lisa Genova. As the psychopomp who traveled from Mount Olympus to the Underworld, Mercury mythically jumped across vast geographies in much the same way words and thoughts allow one to span an interior and exterior universe.

Alice suffers a few more slip ups, including becoming severely disoriented and unable to find her way home from her university campus. Accompanied by her husband John (Alec Baldwin), she receives the diagnosis from her neurologist that, at 50, she has a genetic and particularly aggressive case of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

A substantial portion of the movie is devoted to Alice’s coming to grips with the reality that her career – based on her belief that the “word stock” of a language is the essence of communication – is not only over, but disintegrating. Flash cards she uses to remember words have become increasingly useless. As she puts it, “It feels like my brain is dying, everything I’ve worked for my entire life is going.”

Alice gives a heartbreaking and likely final speech – one she has painstakingly memorized – to an audience of people with Alzheimer’s. And, while still in control of her facilities, she writes instructions to herself – and where to find the list – when life might become unlivable. For Alice, as the Mercurial signatures fall away, finding the right words and finding herself become one and the same impossible task.

In the end, and linking back to the film’s beginning, Lydia (Kristen Stewart), the youngest of her three adult children and a generous and committed caregiver, helps Alice haltingly speak the right word.

Still Alice is a profound viewing experience that honors Mercury’s bounty while mourning its evanescence.

Archetype: Communicator.

Astrology Archetype: ☿ (Mercury)

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