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Alive Inside

Other // Unrated // November 18, 2014
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Aliveinside]

Review by Oktay Ege Kozak | posted November 30, 2014 | E-mail the Author

The Movie:

Alive Inside begins with an interview with a 90-plus-year-old woman. The interviewer calmly asks the woman what she remembers about her life, about her youth. The woman, suffering from dementia, solemnly confesses that even though she lived more than ninety years so far, she can't remember much about her past. The interviewer proposes an unorthodox method to bring back her memories: He will play some of her favorite music from her youth.

He places a set of headphones on her head and presses play. Within a second, Louis Armstrong travels through her ears and into her mind, her soul. The woman instantly smiles and grooves to the music. Then, something miraculous happens: She can remember specific details from her childhood. She begins telling stories as fast as she can, as if she believes that the sudden rush of memories that sparked in her brain are only temporary.

She talks about how her mother didn't want her and her sisters to listen to Louis Armstrong, and how they snuck out to find his records and listen to them. All of a sudden, this isolated, sad woman who was merely waiting to die without even her memories to give her comfort is alive and filled with joy, letting the music take her back to when she was just a little girl.

Alive Inside is an immensely captivating and emotional experience, one that should reignite the viewer's love of music while bringing a brand new appreciation for its awesome power in mending the mind and the soul. For his film, director Michael Rossato-Bennett follows Dan Cohen, founder of Music & Memory, a non-profit organization dedicated to using the power of music to combat memory loss, as he struggles to work through a broken healthcare system in order to bring this miraculous and shockingly simple treatment to every nursing home in America.

"It's easy to write a prescription for a thousand-dollar bottle of pills", one of the doctors working in one of the nursing homes where Cohen is implementing his program with a considerable rate of success tells us, "But request forty dollars for an iPod, that's impossible, because it's not part of the official treatment." Most of the elderly rotting away in nursing homes are overmedicated, constantly being given strong sedatives and anti-psychotic medication that turns them into vegetables, closed off to the outside world.

As the doctor states, "They are patients first, human beings second." When Cohen tries the seemingly simple yet surprisingly underutilized approach of treating them as human beings first, some of the elderly who have barely spoken in years and can't even remember why they are in a nursing home to begin with, are immediately brought back to life within mere seconds of listening to the music of their youth. Needless to say, these scenes provide the most emotional moments of Alive Inside.

The most obvious problem when reviewing an "issue film" is to be able to separate the issue itself from the work's technical prowess. While getting its point across, does it provide an immersive, entertaining and thought-provoking experience? Aside from my obvious affection to Cohen's groundbreaking work, Alive Inside is also an impeccably paced and constructed documentary.

Not only does it manage to create an extremely effective endorsement for Music & Memory, it also packs in a concise exploration of the scientific effects of music in the human mind, while presenting a convincing argument that maybe we're not treating our elders with enough compassion and respect as we stick them into nursing homes and forget about them. It packs a wallop within the brisk running time of 78 minutes.

The DVD:


Alive Inside uses a lot of stock footage in order to visualize some of the memories that pop up in the subjects' minds after being exposed to their favorite tunes from their youth. The fact that this footage is full of scratches and dirt is understandable. The documentary footage, recorded on digital cameras, looks clean and crisp. This is a very impressive standard definition transfer.


Alive Inside comes with two Dolby Digital tracks, 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo. Both the surround and stereo presentations provide clean mixes where we can easily hear all of the interviews. There isn't much presence on the surround channels on the surround mix, but the subwoofer kicks in when any of the classic songs listened to by the elderly subjects are played for the audience.


Deleted Scenes: We get 35 minutes of deleted material, almost half the running time of the feature, shown in no specific order. Most of the scenes focus on talking heads-style interview footage, but there's some important information here nevertheless.

Interview with Dan Cohen: This is a 10-minute interview where Cohen mostly answers questions about what viewers can do to help. If you think about helping their cause after seeing the film (I hope you do), watching this interview will help guide you.

Interview with Michael Rossato-Bennett: The director of Alive Inside talks about his inspirations behind deciding to follow Cohen for the documentary in this 20-minute featurette.

Soundtrack: The film's 30-minute-long original score is played with notes about each track written in the foreground. Probably because of rights reasons, none of the songs played during the film are included.

Commentary by Michael Rossato-Bennett: During this calm and collected commentary, Rossatto-Bennett goes into further detail about each of the film's subjects and open up about his emotions regarding the Music & Memory project.

We also a get a Trailer.

Final Thoughts:

Alive Inside is one of the most heartwarming and important documentaries of the year. It might also be one of the year's best. It reminds us once and for all that music, movies, any form of art that feeds our souls are not mere trivialities, but essential parts of our lives that can link our memories together better than we thought possible. If you would like to help Cohen's program, please visit where you can volunteer and/or donate your used iPod.

Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and






Highly Recommended

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