Alive Inside

Photo courtesy of Bond/360

“Alive Inside” (2014)

An old woman answers most of the questions directed to her about her life with “I have forgotten so much.” She is given an iPod playing Louis Armstrong “When the Saints Go Marching In” and she starts telling stories about her past, including her childhood. At one point she says, “I didn’t know I could talk so much.” This is the start of a wonderful and moving documentary called “Alive Inside.” This incredible film tells the story of social worker Dan Cohen and his mission to provide iPods to people in nursing homes that have dementia and Alzheimer’s. His contention is that music has a unique ability to combat memory loss and brings back a return of spirit and sense of self to those suffering from it.

Alive Inside

Photo courtesy of Bond/360

Filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett followed Dan, who is the founder of Music & Memory, around for three years to document his battle with the healthcare industry to install his program in the over 16,000 nursing homes in the United States. Music & Memory is a nonprofit organization that brings personalized music to the lives of the elderly and infirmed. Dan finds roadblocks as he tries to convince both government institutions and private companies that his program changes people’s lives. However, it’s not easy, as a doctor says in the film; “I can sit down and write a prescription for a $1,000 a month antidepressant, no problem. Personal music doesn’t count as a medical intervention.”

Alive Inside

Photo courtesy of Bond/360

In a film filled with remarkable stories and transformations, the effect of music on Henry, a 94-year-old man with dementia is the most moving and amazing part of the film. Henry has been in a nursing home for ten years. He rarely interacts with other patients or the staff. He usually is unresponsive, with his head bent down on his chest, eyes closed to the world. When Dan puts a pair of headphones on Henry and starts the music, he awakens. He starts singing with the song; eyes opened and focused, his face lighting up with joy. He starts moving his hands and feet in an all-out effort to enjoy the music. He even starts talking to the filmmaker, telling him about his life, his going to dances and listening to Cab Calloway. It’s a moment that is not only surprising, but also emotional. A man who just moments before that was dead to the world, now is alive and full of life.

The film also looks at the impact of music on the human spirit, interviewing musicians, like singer Bobby McFerrin, who have traveled around the world, interacting with audiences through their music. Musician Samite Mulando, talks about seeing up close and personal the healing powers of music even in the most-horrific situations. World-renowned neurologist and best-selling author Oliver Sacks is interviewed in the film. Sacks says, “Music has more ability to activate the brain than any other stimulus.”

Alive Inside

Photo courtesy of Bond/360

The program not only reaches out to nursing homes but also to adults dealing with their partner’s battle with Alzheimer’s. The film showcases a couple where the husband is taking care of his wife with early-onset Alzheimer’s. The woman has trouble doing the simplest task, such as choosing the right button on the elevator or being able to walk down the street. When given the iPod she instantly starts dancing and singing along. By using music, she is able to function enough to where she can go on walks with her husband, something that in the past was incredibly hard to do. The program also reaches out to those who are bed bound by diseases such as MS. As one patient says after getting the gift of music, “Vistas that I thought were closed to me, opened up.”

Alive Inside

Photo courtesy of Bond/360

The film is filled with feel good stories that showcase how much music means to humans. The love of music and its impact on us is something that we don’t share with any other species. The affinity for music maybe ingrained on us as early as in the womb.

“Alive Inside” is an uplifting and inspiring film that gives you hope for those dealing with dementia. Watch it and you will know why it won the Audience Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. As Henry says when asked what happens when you listen to music? “I feel good!”   My Rating: Full Price

My movie rating system from Best to Worst:  1). I Would Pay to See it Again  2). Full Price  3). Bargain Matinee  4). Cable  5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again

If you would like to help with the Music & Memory project, then bring any working iPod to the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema and donate it in the designated “drop boxes.” Landmark Theatres will make sure these iPods go to the Music & Memory project , helping seniors in long-term facilities live a better, more enriched life.

“Alive Inside” is playing exclusively at Landmark Midtown Art Cinemas.

For more information on the Music & Memory project click here.

For all my reviews and interviews, click here.


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