Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory: Sundance Review

A gloriously inspirational film documenting music’s healing power in Alzheimer patients.

Michael Rossato-Bennett's documentary explores how music can help Alzheimer patients.

PARK CITY – When the Loving Spoonful’s John Sebastian’s sang, “The magic’s in the music and the music’s in me,” he didn’t envision the neurological and healing wonder of his lyric. It turns out that songs are embedded deep in our memories, and Alzheimer patients’ minds can be resuscitated by their favorite music or songs.  

A packed audience at Sundance was invigorated by witnessing this magical, non-medical story of healing. Alive Inside was brought to full dimension by filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett’s vigorous filmic hand, blending a bedside manner with a rousing aesthetic.

In this stirring documentary, Rossato-Bennett unveils the healing power of music to reinvigorate memory in nursing-home patients suffering from dementia. Rossato-Bennett follows social worker Dan Cohen, who discovered that a patient’s favorite songs are intact in a part of the brain that is still alive when all other communication and awareness seem irretrievably lost.

With a sharp cinematic scalpel, filmmaker Rossato-Bennett reveals Cohen’s keen insight and discovery. We see that the “nursing-home industry” evolved from poor-house roots and merged with today’s concept of sparing families the wear of elder care. The “humane” result:  Alzheimer patients are basically warehoused, soused with meds and propped away in their rooms.

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In short, “medical” care does not touch the heart and souls of the patients. It merely subdues them. Recognizing that sad and deplorable fact, social worker Cohen tried a different approach:  He provided Dementia sufferers with IPods containing their favorite tunes.

And this is where “the magic in the music” comes in. As the sounds burst out, from Schubert to the Shirelles, their blank faces and somber visages erupt into joy.   They swing and sway, recalling the magical life memories they associate with their favorite songs. The dull deadness of their eyes lights up into a gleaming sparkle, saying “And the music’s in me.”

Production Company: Ximotion Media

Screenwriter/director:   Michael Rossato-Bennett

No rating, 74 minutes.