Over the weekend I attended a screening of the documentary Alive Inside, which won the Audience Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. It’s easy to see why it won the award—it is a very well made documentary that engages viewers in a range of emotions.
The film raises a number of points related to the field of bioethics, particularly as it regards end-of-life issues. For example, the film displays a deep affection for the elderly as well as an appreciation for the wisdom and experience that comes with age. The film points out ways in which many cultures revere their elders, who maintain prominent places within families and within households.
Although it is not the point of the film, in this we do see an alternative to those cultural voices that seek to eliminate suffering by eliminating the sufferer. Instead, we see care and concern, affection and appreciation.
The film also contains images that portray the kinds of scenes many rightly fear. For example, a person left slumped in a wheelchair, alone in a hallway. Such images come in a section of the film that raises pointed questions about whether the ways in which we are currently caring for older adults is truly meeting their needs.
Beyond this, two things really struck me in watching the film. First was the depth of care that people working in nursing homes have for those in their charge. We meet several people who clearly go out of their way—well above and beyond what we might expect—in order to provide for and care for those they are employed to serve.
Secondly, the film is a quiet endorsement of the effect one person can have, when he or she works with diligence and tenacity to make a difference in the lives of others. Social worker Dan Cohen discovered something simple that makes a difference in the lives of others, and he has worked tirelessly to rally others to the cause of improving the lives of older adults, particularly those who are experiencing dementia and other age-related challenges. Now the organization he founded has reached “hundreds of facilities throughout the U.S. and Canada.”
In all of this I’ve not even touched on the central element of the film, which is the power of music to engage listeners and transport them to another place and time. I don’t want to give too much away, because the experience of watching the film is so enjoyable.
So see the film if and when you can. It is currently screening in selected cities, and it will soon be available online.
In the mean time, here is the trailer: