Sunday, 6 April 2014

Film review: Alive Inside

An elderly woman sits before the camera, her face in close-up. A man off-screen leans over and places a pair of headphones over her head. With a press of a button, music fills the woman’s ears. The song playing is When The Saints Go Marching In by Louis Armstrong. She immediately recognizes the song, a smile spreading across her face. She moves her head along to the beat and we watch as she is transported into a distant world, a world that was lost to her until now. “Oh God, that’s beautiful,” she says as she allows herself to become absorbed into the music.

Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory came to life after filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett agreed to film social worker Dan Cohen for a day. Dan happened to discover that a surprisingly wonderful thing happened when he gave headphones and an iPod to nursing home residents with Alzheimer’s and played them their favourites songs from their past: they began accessing long-forgotten memories and regaining a sense of joy and identity. A day of filming turned into a documentary that spanned three years and followed Dan’s journey as he sought to change the way Alzheimer’s is treated in nursing homes around America.

But Alive Inside is more than just a documentary about people with Alzheimer’s unlocking memories through music. It tells the story of the nursing home, an enigmatic world that’s distant from most people’s minds. It critiques the medical model as a platform of care in these homes. It provides insights into the still largely unknown neuroscience behind the remarkable power of music. It holds a mirror to society and the way in which we treat our elders. It asks what will happen when this small cross-section of our population becomes the majority.

Poignant personal stories are interspersed with related narratives by contributors from an array of backgrounds, all executed with stunning sound and visuals that to some could appear contrived, but to me were fully complementary to the overall impact of the story. There were moments of laughter and moments of tears, both sad and happy. It laid bare the human condition and put into sharp focus everything that is so scary and beautiful about it. And there, too, was music, a natural elixir for the spirit, potent beyond words. For a while, the neuroscientific aspect of all of this didn’t really seem important; the only possible reaction was awe.

Having said that, it’s pretty neat to be involved in this important area of research, and the film puts into perspective just how much there is to uncover about the therapeutic potential of music. We are proud to be playing our own small part in the SMART Lab, where we’ve been looking at how music can be used to help better the lives of autistic children and people with Parkinson’s Disease.

The trailer for Alive Inside can be seen here.

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1 comment:

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