The sight of Henry scatting along to the music of Cab Calloway, eyes bulging, alert and animated, is in stark contrast to the same Henry, head bowed and totally unresponsive to a set of simple questions, not two minutes earlier.
Music has the power to do that.
It’s particularly remarkable considering Henry is in a very advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease and so far as we can make out, can barely tell whether it’s night or day.
In Alive Inside, time and again, patients of a similar condition are ‘revived’ through the music of their choice, providing strong evidence that the area of the brain that processes ‘music’ is one of the very last to be affected by the ravages of progressive memory loss.
It’s a documentary focusing on Dan Cohen, a man who whilst volunteering to work in a U.S care home, attempted to ascertain the therapeutic powers and benefits of music on its inhabitants.
This in turn led to the creation of ‘Music & Memory,’ a movement attempting to convince the powers that be that for a small financial outlay, a simple iPod and headphones could be allocated to those affected by Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s and other serious, degenerative brain conditions and make a real difference to their lives.
The film takes us on an interesting journey through the history of the care home from their inception when they were more like actual homes through to their present day incarnations, sanitised medical facilities, full of overly-medicated patients, who, suppressed by this medication and their clinical surroundings, retreat into their shells, no longer able to express themselves or indeed have their voices heard.
I suppose that’s probably the point though?
Predictably, an archaic, inward-looking American healthcare system, so dominated by the synthetic world of pharmaceuticals and pill popping and the various vested interests that go with it, failed to grasp the true value of Cohen’s work which was consequently shunned. Pleasingly, through perseverance, Cohen has made notable strides and inroads since.
Interspersed by snippets of the wonderful Bobby McFerrin, demonstrating the innate musical ability that lies within each and every one of us, and the remarkable powers and healing properties of music therapy, Alive Inside is a truly powerful piece.
There are strong parallels with the film Awakenings and the work of Doctor Oliver Sacks (although admittedly his most notable work was based more upon the administering of experimental drugs than therapy), as we watch stuporous patients suddenly regain both their agility and joix de vivre. It is though perhaps the heartfelt reactions of family and friends witnessing the loved ones they thought they had lost forever, return to this world once again, albeit briefly, albeit temporarily, that lives longest in the memory.
With a little luck, many more unfortunate souls will benefit from the exposure that Alive Inside could and should get from this cinematic release.
An important and life affirming piece.