On Still Alice

Still_Alice_-_Movie_PosterRecently I caught the well-regarded film Still Alice. At the risk of offering a significant spoiler, one scene in particular struck me and stayed with me long afterward.

The title character is suffering an aggressive loss of her mind with Alzheimer’s disease. Anticipating a debilitating future, she sends herself a message, which turns up for the future self during a frustrating time on the computer.

Alice in the past carefully instructs her ill future self to find some hidden pills, consume them all, and go to sleep.

I wasn’t surprised that the character, a professional woman, career-driven with high standards, would not want to live a life far less than she was accustomed. As it happens in the film, the euthanasia isn’t successful. The future Alice must listen to the message three or four times, finally taking the laptop to the hiding place for the pills. But an entry in the home startles her, and the pills are dropped on the floor.

I thought about the moral culpability in such a case. Past Alice was unsuccessful in getting her future self to commit suicide, but only because of an accident. The future self was incapable of making a decision about ending her life early. But the past self carries the moral wrong, regardless. What happens as a person’s awareness winks out of existence? How does God view such a thing? If the person is “still Alice,” what of that? What if she entered the deep fog of disease unrepentant?

I imagine some Christian reviewers had doubts about the film. I don’t know–I didn’t research them. I am in favor of the portrayal in Still Alice, however. For me it intensified my reflection on this illness and the end of life issue. I thought the actor, Julianne Moore, was brilliant throughout: playing the intelligent academic, the family woman, and the fading victim of Alzheimer’s disease. The supporting cast was uniformly excellent.

Anybody else see it?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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One Response to On Still Alice

  1. Atheist Max says:

    “But the past self carries the moral wrong, regardless.”

    No. The past self had the morality of the situation exactly right. Morality is complex, it is not a simple biblical pablum about life at any cost.

    When a person arrives at a disastrous nonexistence – a vegetative state where the brain is dead but the body carries on pointlessly – the lost person saw it coming and knew best for themselves. Loved ones can only watch in vain as the person long gone cannot even grasp for what they have lost. So vacant is their existence.

    It is like biblical heaven. Empty nonsense. A world so distorted one could not know and could not care which of her children or ex-husbands made it to the promised land with her or who is missing. Has Hell or Heaven ever been so pointless? Fortunately for them, life is brief. Thankfully, death is an eternal deliverance. And for most of the people with Alzheimers it should happen as they wished – when they were aware of themselves.

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