Alive Inside

Five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease and dementia—many of them alone in nursing homes. A man with a simple idea discovers that songs embedded deep in memory can ease pain and awaken these fading minds. Joy and life are resuscitated, and our cultural fears over aging are confronted.


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  • ★★★★★ review by TheGiantClaw on Letterboxd

    Recommended by Andy Swart

    Funny story: while surfing the web a while back, I stumbled upon this video of a 94 year old man in a nursing home who has become a complete vegetable. And it was so fascinating and wonderful to watch as this man's favorite music brought him to life. Little did I know that this was from an inspiring documentary called Alive Inside.

    Now I've always had music in my life. When I was a kid, I had a portable CD player and a bunch of teen music I'd constantly have on replay until I fell asleep. As I got older, I started listening to the music my family and friends listened to, and eventually found a vast treasure trove on the internet.

    Music has helped me through a lot of rough times and has made the good times better. And with a plethora of music out there, I've found all kinds of music that fits my mood. When I'm down, I listen to Florence & the Machine, or Counting Crows, or jazz, when I'm feeling energetic I listen to The Beastie Boys or any number of metal bands I love. When I feel like floating away and not worrying about my problems, music is there for me. In fact I'm listening to music as I write this review (Sail Away-Randy Newman). So when I found this documentary that tapped into what I love about music, I knew it was going to be a treat.

    Alive Inside is about the journey of Dan Cohen, the founding Executive Director of Music & Memory inc., out to conduct a social experiment where he gives elders racked with Alzheimer's an iPod and a pair of headphones and watches their reactions to their favorite music. What he found was that people who originally couldn't recall even what their children looked like all of the sudden reminisced about their childhood in vivid details. The point was to show that music is connected to our memories and that part of the brain music taps into goes unaffected by Alzheimer's.

    But the heart of the film is to show that because we all grow old, it doesn't mean that we become obsolete like a computer, we instead become wiser and more peaceful. It shows just how poorly we treat our elders and how something as simple as an iPod and a cheap pair of headphones can prove to us that our elders have so much more to show us than we think.

    I can only think of a few instances where I've cried watching a movie: The Imitation Game, Pride of the Yankees, The Bucket List, Lombardi, The Green Mile, but this one got me the worst. Wives reconnecting with their husbands, friends and acquaintances learning new things about each other, the bond between children and their parents growing stronger.

    If you don't intend on watching this movie, if this doesn't sound like your kind of thing, then at least give Dan the respect he deserves and support his passion:

    If you want to recommend a new review, head over to my Netflix recommendation list and scream at me to check out your favorite pick here: Let's Delve Into the Madness That Is My Netflix Queue

  • ★★★½ review by Cinema Strikes Back on Letterboxd

    77 Minuten durchgehend Gänsehaut.

  • ★★★★★ review by Swartacus on Letterboxd

    Compelling, uplifting, depressing, inspiring, joyful and heartbreaking.

    I highly recommend this to anyone who believes in the power of music.

    When anyone asks me "what do you want your kids to be when they grow up?" I always say "musician or scientist."

    Projects like this are the reason why.

  • ★★★★ review by Michael Casey on Letterboxd

    Last night I pulled out a favorite album of mine that I had not listened to in some time, Doolittle by Pixies. Within seconds, I was transported to another time, another place. A smile crept across my face, my feet began to tap and a series of memories flooded forth.

    How does this happen? Where do these memories, so vivid they seem tangible, come from? How is it that a pop song can bring forth something that no other work of art can?

    “Music connects people with who they have been, who they are and their lives,” explains Dan Cohen, the subject of the documentary ALIVE INSIDE. Cohen, founder of the not-for-profit Music & Memory, works tirelessly to help patients with dementia access their memory through the power of music. It is a long, uphill battle that Cohen faces, but the results keep him optimistic.

    Armed with a simple iPod, Cohen visits patients with varying degrees of dementia, Alzheimer’s and, in one case, schizophrenia to see if music will stir something in them. It does. The music starts, and these comatose patients spring to life. Most sing, many dance and some are so overcome with emotion they burst into tears. It’s one of the most joyous things you will ever see.

    It sounds too good to be true, but people like Henry — whose viral video is what spurred on this documentary — undergo an unbelievable transformation. Prior to the music, Henry couldn’t recognize his own daughter, but with “Goin’ Up Yonder” playing, Henry can answer questions with clarity.

    Cohen and first-time documentarian Michael Rossato-Bennett travel to various nursing homes, repeating this experiment over and over again, positing that music may be the most effective tool to combat dementia. ALIVE INSIDE doesn’t spend much of its lean running time (78 minutes) on the science of this musical cure, choosing to show rather than tell, but here is the short and skinny: It works because it stimulates the patients, forcing them to interact, and that interaction sharpens the mind. The proof is in the pudding every time Cohen presses play.

    Yet, ALIVE INSIDE is not really about Cohen and his musical cure. ALIVE INSIDE is a not-so-subtle attack on how Americans turn a blind eye to aging and sickness. According to ALIVE INSIDE, 5 million Americans have been diagnosed with dementia, and prescription medication and nursing home care reigns supreme.

    We make way for tomorrow by shuffling grandma and grandpa off, loading them up with pills and condemning them to spend the rest of their days receding into their own minds. It’s an undignified way to end one’s life.

    ALIVE INSIDE compares that life to the one Nell Hardie lives with her husband, Norman. The Hardies have been using music at home, and with success, to ward off dementia for 10 years now. The Hardies combat the disease not with medication, but with music and with devotion. It’s working, but it takes time, care and a whole lot of love.

    Cohen’s cure isn’t just music — although music does make everything better — it’s attention. What could be more effective than basic human interaction? Not much. As I watched one patient, Connie, weeping and happily hugging Cohen, a line from Kurt Vonnegut ran through my mind: “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — God damn it, you’ve got to be kind!”

  • ★★★★ review by Juan Bacaro on Letterboxd

    Esto es una bomba lacrimógena. Es prácticamente imposible no sentirse endeble ante un documental que habla de música, senilidad y memoria.

    Pese a no ser tan exhaustivo -y tener una duración de solo 75 minutos- "Alive Inside" es uno de los documentales más tiernos que vi este último año (junto a "Blood Brother").

    Una influyente historia donde se funden caridad y ciencia, sumando una serie de datos inéditos sobre el tratamiento del Alzheimer. Resulta que la música podría ser lo más funcional. Aunque no se deja del todo claro la efectividad en el 100% de los casos.

    El documental puede parecer un tanto panfletario, pero finalmente llega al corazón y resulta transformador. Tal vez le hizo falta más peso científico. También hay instantes en los cuales roza la denuncia.

    Ya "Alive Inside" llega a ser uno más en mis favoritos de 2014: La película estuvo en el pasado ANIMA FILM FEST de Buenos Aires.

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    P.D: Bobby McFerrin!!

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