Saturday movie review: Alive Inside

I shared a video a few years ago here on Grandma's Briefs of an elderly nursing home resident who amazingly comes out of the fog of dementia when headphones connected to an iPod are placed on his head. ALIVE INSIDE is the full documentary of that magical moment as well as others experienced by several dementia and Alzheimer's patients when given the opportunity to once again hear beloved tunes from days long gone. Joyous moments that prove music is far more powerful than pharmaceuticals.

Alive Inside documentary

In ALIVE INSIDE—winner of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award (Documentary)—filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett follows social worker and founder of Music & Memory Dan Cohen as he brings music to nursing home residents, via iPods and headphones. The results? Elation, wakefulness, memory recall, talking and dancing. Bottom line: revitalization of folks family and medical staff considered "gone," virtually lost inside themselves.

So why not hand out headphones and iPods to every one of the nation's nursing home residents? Despite Cohen's valiant efforts in promoting the far less expensive and far more effective prescription than the current practice of doling out pills galore, it's unfortunately not as simple a solution as one might think.

In the intriguing and surprisingly emotional film, noted neurologist Oliver Sacks and musician Bobby McFerrin provide insight on how and why music has such a profound effect on those with memory loss and dementia. It's the patients themselves, though, who touch the souls of viewers as their own souls are awakened by music. I found myself laughing out loud at the sheer delight of several patients profiled and tearing up along with those shedding tears of joy after hearing songs on the iPod.

And I found myself angered by Cohen's inability to get the support he needs—primarily the support of the healthcare system—to give all nursing home residents something so simple yet amazingly healing and cost effective.

A fascinating Q&A with Dan Cohen and the Ohio Department of Again after one screening:

ALIVE INSIDE highlights broken people in a broken system. Yet the film proved uplifting and inspirational. And it made my husband and me determined to bring his mom an iPhone and some headphones the next time we visit her. Queue the Frank Sinatra for Granny!

ALIVE INSIDE (not rated) was released in 2014 and is available via streaming, Blu-ray, and DVD. For more information on the film, visit the ALIVE INSIDE website. For more on Dan Cohen's non-profit organization, visit

Disclosure: I watched this film via free-for-review access to Fandor, a subscription service that provides streaming access to indie, foreign, and documentary films. Watch and stream on TV, web and mobile platforms, including Roku, iPhone and iPad, Android, Kindle Fire, and desktop. Half of purchase dollars go to support the community of filmmakers and film providers. Father's Day special (through June 23, 2015): Half off gift subscriptions. Details here.