REVIEW: Alive Inside

3 09 2014

Alive InsideIn what appears to be the consensus pick for the favorite tearjerker of the past decade, “The Notebook,” audiences empty their tear ducts watching an Alzheimer’s patient momentarily regain touch with her lost memory.  That film features no “fantasy” elements, so to speak, but it feels like the kind of ending that could only occur in Hollywood.

The documentary “Alive Inside” proposes that the emotional experience of “The Notebook” doesn’t have to be relegated to the realm of fiction, however.  Social worker Dan Cohen, with nothing more than an iPod and a set of headphones, shows how music can reawaken long-dormant memories in Alzheimer’s patients.  Science has never felt so magical.

Cohen’s process isn’t just some funny mistake, though.  It’s rooted in neuroscience, which has shown that our capacity to process elements of music is one of the first things formed in an embryo … and also one of the last things to be effected by degenerative neurological diseases.  Time and time again, Cohen shows how music can resurrect the soul to moving effect.

Oddly enough, his process has not seemed to catch on with the retirement home industry, only finding use in roughly 0.19% of facilities.  Perhaps there are some potent naysayers that “Alive Inside” chose to exclude, but from this documentary alone, employing music for the dignity of these patients seems rather obvious.

Director Michael-Rossato Bennett does a less successful job lobbying for macro-scale change in the way that we treat our aging population and the manner in which retirement homes are run.  It’s not that he doesn’t make good points about them; “Alive Inside” just doesn’t feel like a documentary well-equipped to push for sweeping social reform.  The film is at its best when simply documenting these undeniably sweet and touching micro-level interactions between Alzheimer’s patients and the music that once moved them.  Because, as Cohen demonstrates, that music is inseparable from emotion and still capable of moving them.  B / 2halfstars

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