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Alive Inside is one of the year's most important documentaries. The idea of the film began when filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett was invited to see some of the work being done with elder-care individuals at a retirement home by computer-whiz Dan Cohen, himself an outsider to the medical field and the practices carried out by the nation's (and largely the world's) healthcare system in support of the elderly. Cohen had the idea to bring music back into the lives of the elderly living with dementia, Alzheimer's, bipolar, and other medical issues: to bring music to individuals who struggled with memory loss. He hoped it could help them to regain some of their personal memories and emotions through listening to the music, which is something that was untried and untested within the medical world. The results were staggering.
The results of Dan Cohen's experiments were overwhelmingly positive and the experience by Michael Rossato-Bennett witnessing the work of Cohen and its impact upon others lives led to him deciding that a documentary should be made to cover this important issue with the world. As he witnessed those who were considered unexpressive, recessive, and unable to recount details of their lives (from their children's names to places they had been before or important life events), it became overwhelmingly clear that the impact music made on the lives of these individuals was a profound one.
Memories thought to be lost came flooding back with a wave of emotion within these individuals and began to be recounted during their sessions. The otherwise quiet and withdrawn individuals who health-care professionals considered to be withdrawn in a vegetative state became overjoyed with emotion and began to dance, smile, and sing while listening to their favorite songs. Part of the process involved finding the right music for the individual. Knowing what some of their favorite music was prior to becoming diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer's was a vastly important step in the process. Once a important song or album could be identified, this was central to helping to bring back their memories - and memories that had been thought lost returned.
As the documentary explores, the human brain's associations with music are some portions of our brains least affected areas when negative memory loss can occur. While the documentary does a much better job describing this concept: in essence, the important thing to learn is the concept that music can play a legitimate role in triggering other areas of the human brain and help address memory loss. It can also be something used to help keep our brains active. The importance of music is more than just an emotional one. It's connection to human emotion connects significantly and profoundly into other areas of humanity and experience too.
The idea of using music as a therapeutic tool in health care and to help combat memory loss was one Cohen found greeted with a lot of resistance when he first set out to raise awareness of the potential for music in the lives of those in retirement homes. Initially, for example, he had been shot down by the president of the Alzheimer's Association when meeting with him: they did not want to support the idea. (By the time the film was released, however, it is worth noting that they had become a supportive partner with the filmmakers and the mission.)
Many of the elder came homes he went to had presidents who did not want to offer music as part of their care (with reasons given such as 'if one patient wants music does that mean all patients get music' or quoting costs and maintenance as reasons why it might not work for them. Cohen found it disheartening and a huge obstacle was placed in front of him going forward. He decided that to help these underserved individuals he would start his own non-profit organization, Music & Memory, which received a large matching grant to help bring iPods into the lives of the bed-ridden retirement home individuals. As Cohen describes with this theory, music is a key to self. And bringing music into their lives again was a key to reigniting their inner selves.
Cohen thought that music was something that could make a much larger difference than a daily dosage of another pill. Something discussed in this documentary too, is the common misuse of prescription pills that retirement home individuals find themselves being given and the often negative impact it can have. The question is raised: why were many elderly individuals being given medicine which was possibly having negative side effects on them without real benefits? While the entirety of the health care system is not decried by the filmmakers (who describe the individuals working within the system as being some of the most caring in the world), they are also willing to point out areas in which they see a need for improvement.
The film also explores an issue with how our nation's elders are often being left forgotten by the families they once had. As they are moved into nursing/retirement homes and are left without regular visits, these elders have no connection anymore to the outside world they once knew so well and it can have a negative impact on memory as the human brain and emotions begin to withdraw into oneself and cause memory loss, which affects the livelihoods of these elderly individuals.
Filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett also discusses how our world used to honor the elderly as wise and full of insight and worth to offer us all but that our "fast-paced" world today wants to honor and recognize the fastest, brightest, and hardest working youth more than anything ever before. A "machine-like" quality seen in human work is seen as something of a positive now (when in fact human beings were never meant to be like machines). The idea of one human's worth and sense of worth is discussed and how important it is that human being's retain that feeling of importance to those around them. Without it, a whole host of negative feelings of individual self come into play and it can negatively affect a person (with withdrawing into oneself being a common issue).
The documentary also discusses America's shift over time from retirement homes that were designed to be like actual homes into a standard in which today's "retirement homes" have usually been designed to resemble clinical and hospital-like facilities. This takes away the feelings of "self" from an individual when they start being treated like patients and not as humans, with their own emotions, memories, and lives. The documentary ponders what a cultural shift like this does to a person's feelings of self-worth and what role it plays in the ongoing issue of memory loss.
Music can help. That is the bottom line of this documentary. People need to remember that so that those without access to music in retirement homes and with issues such as Alzheimer's, typically left without this important soul-reaching source, can find music again and have it reintroduce them to memories once left forgotten.
Sometimes the best work in any field can occur by a outsider and Dan Cohen's quest proves that another hand helping to find a way to something better can often result in fruitful results. His mission to experiment with music in the lives of these individuals is something that is already helping to change lives for the better, and the more people are aware of how much music can help the better the chances are of memory loss being combated with positive results.
Ultimately, Alive Inside discusses much more than just music, but it's core goal is to enlighten audiences on the positive effects music can have on the lives on elder-care individuals. Music connects us to our souls, our memories, and our lives in a profound way. Dan Cohen was an individual working outside of the health-care system in search of a way to help others. He succeeded. With the power of music (and the significance of personal time spent towards connecting with individuals) a lot can be done to help those individuals with dementia, Alzheimer's, and other medical issues which has resulted in memory loss.
Alive Inside is significant filmmaking: the kind that can make a very real and important impact on the lives of others. Within the documentary one can see scenes of many real individuals in retirement homes who have received personal attention and care by Cohen, and with music brought to them which rekindled their emotions, hearts, and minds. This is a life-affirming experience, one which the audience will respond to profoundly. As this documentary proves, music is a needed necessity in the lives of everyone and it should never be overlooked in the lives of those living with such ailments as dementia and Alzheimer's.
Please visit musicandmemory.org for more information on how you may help.
Alive Inside arrives on Blu-ray with a strong 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded presentation. The film has a clean, modern, and pleasing look to it that well represents the fine digital source quality. While some scenes in the film utilize older source materials in varying degrees of quality, the "current-day" sequences and clips are all uniformly excellent with the proper amount of detail and depth one would expect for a modern film production. The color doesn't ever really amaze and the cinematography is somewhat static and more life-like (as is probably expected for most documentary productions) but it all works well. Occasionally the presentation has some minor banding but it's the only real negative attribute to an otherwise impressive presentation.
The audio presentation for Alive Inside arrives in two flavors on Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound and 2.0 Uncompressed PCM. Both options are excellent sounding to behold, with great fidelity at times and clean, clear, and easy to understand dialogue. I did, unfortunately, notice some very-slight distortion in the bass at times -- it was almost as if something in the audio had been mixed too high. Yet this was a mostly pleasant, strong presentation of the documentary with good lossless audio clarity and depth throughout.
First up is a feature-length commentary track with Alive Inside documentary filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett.
There are quite a few video-based bonus features included on this documentary release. First up is the deleted scenes (totaling 35 min. of material). The release also includes the featurette Ask Dan Cohen (13 min.), which features the kind-spirited Cohen, one of the prime focuses of the documentary, and the creator of the Music & Memory non-profit organization.
There is also a interview with the director of Alive Inside, Michael Rossato-Bennett, which runs 19 minutes. Also of note is the inclusion of the entirety of the Alive Inside Soundtrack (30 min.), featured upon this Blu-ray release.
Lastly, the original theatrical trailer for Alive Inside is provided.
Alive Inside is an important and thoughtful documentary film which serves as a reminder of the importance of music to everyone's lives and to the significant impact it can make in the lives of the elderly living in retirements homes and for those with dementia, Alzheimer's, and other conditions which can have a negative impact on the state of personal memory. The film is triumphantly proclaiming the proven importance of not only integrating music into these individuals lives to help combat memory loss (and to help regain memories in individuals once thought irretrievable) but also of remembering to treat them as people first instead of simply as patients living inside of retirement home walls.
Alive Inside is one of the best films of the year (regardless of genre) and a must-see film with an important message worth sharing with others. For anyone who has ever been graced with the love of another human being and who has felt the inspirational and spiritual wonderment of music (and its impact on the human soul), this is a significant documentary with a voice that must be heard.
Please visit musicandmemory.org for more information on how you may help.
Highly Recommended .
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.