“Alive Inside” opens on a ninety-year-old woman, sitting in a chair set against a black background, explaining that she can’t remember anything. The setting is very deliberate: she suffers from dementia, and as the film will argue repeatedly throughout, people with dementia in nursing homes live in a world devoid of meaning. We watch her start listening to Louis Armstrong’s “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and she lights up, telling us it reminds her of her school days. Then, the film cuts to an old black-and-white film strip, a stand-in for the kinds of memories the music must be evoking. The stories of her life start pouring out. What the social worker Dan Cohen discovered is that music seems to unlock a previously inaccessible world of memories for people with dementia, and “Alive Inside” follows his journey to bring this joy to more people.
Alex is the Editor-in-Chief of The Seventh Row, based in San Francisco and from Toronto, Canada.