This is a very special piece from one of the AwardsWatch family, Dave Acacia, and how Julianne Moore’s performances in Safe, Far From Heaven and Still Alice have affected him personally. Grab a tissue, it’s a wonderful read.
[box type=”shadow” ]Dear Julianne,
I have many favourite actresses, and there have been many performances that have taught me so much, but today, after seeing Still Alice, I came to the realization that there has not been an artist, in any medium, whose work has affected me as much and as often as yours. Your filmography is full of gems that are practically performance perfection, but it’s between Safe, Far from Heaven, and Still Alice that you’ve guided me through an existential Odyssey of self-discovery.
I grew up in a small town, and was raised in a fundamentalist religious family. I was a nervous kid, and never really had many friends, growing up. And, just my luck, I happened to be gay. It was really difficult for me to see everyone express such hostility and disgust for something that I never thought could really hurt anyone. Every day, from my adolescence until my early adulthood, I prayed that God would reverse my increasing attraction to people of my own gender. Beginning in my early childhood, I was also medicated for Attention Deficit Disorder, until I stopped taking my pills cold turkey, halfway through high school. Once I did that, my metabolism started to slow down, plus I developed more of an appetite for food. My hormonal changes combined with the pain of not feeling accepted led me to eat even more than I had an appetite for, so I gained sixty pounds in two years. It was bad enough that I was surrounded by a family and community that had an irrational hatred for what is but a small part of who I am. I found it even more difficult once I started to reach out to the few other guys my age who I knew were gay, and was evasively and politely declined anytime I was looking for affection, or even just acceptance, when I knew that their immediate impression was that I was “too fat.” The shame and pain of feeling like a disappointment and a pariah made me nearly hate myself before long. Then, in 2008, I watched Far from Heaven and Safe, for the first time.
I remember tearfully watching as Cathy Whitaker’s heart is broken, and world is in disarray once her husband leaves her for another man, but is strong enough to move on with her life. No matter how much my homosexuality could hurt my loved ones, I knew that they, too, would have to survive it. And, there was something that told me while I was watching the final scene of Safe, and Carol White looks into a mirror and has the courage to tell herself, “I love you; I really love you,” that I needed to learn how to be able to honestly tell myself the same. It didn’t matter if every single person in the world adored me: the most important person that I needed to feel loved by was me. Seeing Far from Heaven and Safe proved to be a rite of passage into my adulthood, and as I began to love myself, the direction of my life changed, bit by bit. I started to relate and connect to other people more, and I was able to slowly lose all of the weight I had gained.
And, now, I’ve seen Still Alice.
During those teenaged years, I also had to endure watching in terror as my beloved grandfather was slowly taken away from me as his Alzheimer’s progressed. I remember visiting him every weekend in the nursing home where he was living, and sadly realizing that he was losing his memories of the time we had shared, and eventually, even the recollection of who I was.
I’m now halfway through my twenties, but I’m already acutely aware of how fast time seems to be slipping through my fingers. I know that old age is going to arrive sooner than I would like it to, so I can’t help but think about what will happen to me. I know that there’s a high probability that I’ll develop Alzheimer’s, and it’s something that I think about at least on a weekly basis. My anxieties mount as I consider the possibility that I might not ever meet someone to share my life with, and have a family with. And even if I do, I have no idea if they’d have the fortitude to look after me; if I don’t, I have no idea if I will be financially prepared to afford the care I may need. But, the biggest thing that’s scared me is the idea of losing my memory. It poses a daunting conundrum: if a person is shaped by his experiences, but he begins to lose the memories of them, is he still the same person?
But, today, I watched Still Alice. Your work in this film is staggering! You breathe life into Alice and answer so many questions I’ve had, reconcile so many of my anxieties, and have given me a roadmap on how to approach the future. It was so painful to watch such a highly functional person lose her sense of bearings, language, and memories of her family. It was gratifying to see how highly functional and resourceful Alice could be, as she cleverly designed that quiz that she routinely solved every day (a truly engaging part of the film, as it seemed to be a quiz to test the viewer’s memory, as well). Your delivery of the speech Alice makes about living with Alzheimer’s feels so genuine and accurate to what I’ve seen, firsthand, and I cried more than once. That scene where Alice’s daughter Lydia reads Harper’s Ozone monologue from Angels in America, and asks Alice what’s it about, she answers “love.” I realized that the details of who Alice is may be slipping away with her decline, but nothing can change her understanding of ideas that are fundamentally what’s truly important for a person know. It’s the proof of her humanity: she is no longer sensitive to or able to remember details, but she never loses who she inherently is, and truly she is still Alice. It will be tough if I eventually lose the repertoire of my experiences, but, now I know that I’m never going to lose my personhood.
Suddenly, I’m not so afraid, anymore.[/box]