The New York Times Profiles HUMANITAS Winners Wash Westmorland and Richard Glazer


westmoreland-glatzer-mainOne of this year’s surprise cinematic success stories centers on the independent film “Still Alice,” which tells the tale of an Ivy League linguistics professor dealing with early-onset Alzheimer’s.

After going into the Toronto International Film Festival with no distributor and zero buzz, the film emotionally sucker-punched audiences and emerged with a deal from Sony Pictures Classics as well as forecasts that its star, Julianne Moore, who put in what critics described as a quietly devastating performance, could win her first Academy Award.

Yet perhaps more remarkable is its back story.

Based on a novel that nearly didn’t get published, the film was written and directed by the married team of Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer. Just months before embarking on the project in 2011, they were told by a neurologist that Mr. Glatzer’s increased slurring was not just a mysterious tic, but probably a symptom of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as A.L.S. and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“Though A.L.S. and Alzheimer’s are very different diseases, it was a very hard read for me,” Mr. Glatzer said of the book, Mr. Westmoreland sitting beside him on a couch in their Echo Park bungalow here, as their two fluffy rescue dogs, Arthur and Joey, napped nearby. “It hit way too close. But when I finished reading, I knew we had to do it.”

A.L.S. is progressive and attacks motor neurons, and Mr. Glatzer has lost the ability to speak as well as the use of his hands to type. So, painstakingly, using a toe on his right foot, he typed his answers to a reporter’s questions letter by letter on an iPad, a computerized voice named Ryan reading his responses.

Mr. Westmoreland has always been the taller and larger of the pair, but since the diagnosis, Mr. Glatzer’s frame has especially thinned. Mr. Westmoreland’s caretaking role has also increased in step with the disease’s progression, though between the two there is an air of attentive ease, and they have a friend helping with Mr. Glatzer’s care.

As different as A.L.S. and Alzheimer’s are — one ravages the body and spares the mind, the other largely does the opposite — the effect of Mr. Glatzer’s disease ineluctably wound its way into the film, giving it an authenticity and sense of purpose that extended to the set.

“It infuses it with a real sense of urgency,” Ms. Moore said. In particular, she said she felt Mr. Glatzer’s experience sing through a speech her character gave in which she implores people to see her not as someone who is suffering, but rather struggling to remain connected to others and to who she once was. “I feel like he distilled everything he was going through,” she said.

“Still Alice” will open Dec. 5 for a week in New York and Los Angeles to qualify for the awards season before a wider January release. For the filmmakers and the novelist, Lisa Genova, it is the culmination of a journey that could have been derailed at every step.

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UncategorizedJosh Neimark