You know a movie speaks to the audience when people just sit there as the credits start to roll rather than getting up and moving out. That’s what happened this evening when my husband and I went to see Alive Inside, the Sundance award-winning documentary about the role that music plays in the lives of elderly people who experience brain disease and loneliness. At first, no one got up to leave.
The other day I described how we watched a preview of Alive Inside at one of Dr. Bill Thomas’ Second Wind events last March and how we were moved to tears. That only begins to describe the reactions in the movie theatre tonight. The people in front of me were tearful and talking about a relative. The young people behind me were sniffling and whispering about their grandmother. I was thinking about my family members.
As I looked around, I observed individuals with hands on their faces, hands folded in prayer, and people with eyes riveted to the screen as we all watched person after person, mostly elders, smile, move, talk, remember, and transform — as the music played. We saw exuberance, animation, even joy come on to faces that, only moments before were vacant.
Dan Cohen, the man who came up with the idea of connecting fragile people with iPods, headphones, and music is a genius – but one with a vision and a well-thought-through mission. So is documentarian Michael Rossato-Bennet, who spoke about the movie at the Sundance Film Festival (below).
Again and again, in between dramatic scenes of fragile people listening to music and yes, activating neurons, Dr. Thomas, whose passion is no less than changing elder care culture, offers pithy, but common sensical observations. It’s so easy, he points out, to write a prescription for medicine at great expense, when an iPod and personalized music can do the same thing. Why he wonders, can’t we celebrate elderhood rather than make it a medical problem? I wish I had been able to take notes to get these quotes word for word.
But one elder care comment in the movie stands out, and I do have it word for word. Dr. Thomas muses, “We haven’t done anything to touch the heart and soul…”
Other neurologists offered thoughts just as compelling. A physician, I think that he was associated with the North Shore LIJ Health System from the Long Island area, noted that no medicine he has ever prescribed for memory issues has given the same effect as the music and iPods. And, of course, Dr. Oliver Sacks gave us periodic tours of the brain, pointing out that part of the brain that deals with music is one of the last places to be affected by memory loss.
I wish every elder blogger, aging blogger, and dementia blogger would go to see this movie, return home, and post a review about music, memory, and Alive Inside. And I hope many posts link to Music and Memory, Dan Cohen’s nonprofit organization that is moving ahead with this splendid music program.
Music changed the quality of life for the people in the movie and, I expect for many others we did not see. As one of the physicians said in the movie,” I wish there were a pill that could do that.”
N.B. Find out where the movie is playing. If it is not showing at a theatre anywhere near where you live, you can pre-order Alive Inside on iTunes for $14.95) and sometime soon we should be able to download it.
Watch the movie trailer here.