Alive Inside Is an Engaging, Vaguely Uplifting Look at Music Therapy

Courtesy of Bond 360
Alive Inside misses the opportunity to delve deeper into its characters.

If there's a problem with Michael Rossato-Bennett's Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory, an engaging, vaguely uplifting documentary about how personalized music therapy can help dementia patients, it's that it ignores the very tune it's playing. Rather than present its elderly, memory-impaired subjects as human beings who deserve more from life, they're offered up as ersatz spokespeople for the effectiveness of this already-tested technique.

See also: Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight Is Forgettable

Still, it's hard not to be moved by footage of Henry, a 94-year-old man with dementia, who's awakened from his slumped-over life in a wheelchair with a Cab Calloway tune, played for him on an iPod clipped to his collar. And it's easy to be taken in by the devotion and passion of this movie's real subject, Dan Cohen, a social worker who wants to overhaul dementia treatment worldwide by playing for patients the very music they loved when they were still sentient.

The film demonstrates, repeatedly, the effectiveness of this therapeutic use of music, always bringing about a stunning change in a formerly inert patient. One woman, muttering and unsure, becomes coherent and happy when Cohen slips a pair of earphones over her head and plays a Beach Boys song for her. An old man who hasn't interacted with others in two years comes alive, singing along and dancing to an Andrews Sisters tune he recalls from his former life.

Music therapy as a stimulant for the demented is nothing new; it's been used in nursing homes for years. Cohen's refined the technique with headphones and an iPod filled with specially selected, personalized music. But there's so little background on Cohen and the evolution of music therapy, and so much repetition in its effects on demented people, that the movie often feels less like an enlightening look into a crisis (more than 50 million people are suffering from various dementias; that number will nearly double in the next 10 years) and more like a shill for Cohen's nonprofit program, Music and Memory, which has thus far introduced this therapy into more than 500 nursing homes in the US.

The narrator mimics the same sing-song tones used by Michael Moore, which unfortunately makes one wonder what this film might have been like had it been made by a filmmaker with a stronger point of view.

Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory is now playing at Harkins Camelview 5, 7001 East Highland Avenue in Scottsdale. Call 480-947-8778 or visit

Follow Jackalope Ranch on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help

Please note: This is not MUSIC THERAPY. Music therapy is a term reserved specifically for the work of a music therapist. In the US, music therapists are given the designation MT-BC (music therapist-board certified). In order to be come a music therapist, one must complete a 4-year degree, 1200 hours of clinical supervision (including a full-time internship), and pass the board-certification exam administered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists. 

So what is depicted in Alive Inside? Music listening for enjoyment. Music therapy is a form of therapy because it is a process that occurs within the context of a therapeutic relationship. Music therapists constantly assess and reassess their clients' responses to music (usually live music, although we use recorded music as well), adapt the music, interact through the music, and help clients cope and change as a result of this process--even clients with dementia.

To the author, Robrt Pela, please consider addressing and correcting this error. There are 6000+ board-certified music therapists in the US, and we'd appreciate it!

Thank you!

Now Trending

Phoenix Concert Tickets

From the Vault


Health & Beauty