Tuesday 28 August 2012
Devouring Films: Dreams of a Life
Dreams of a Life (for those who didn't randomly read something about it, and then more or less straight away forget it, i.e. everyone) is a documentary centred around a case in the UK of 6 years ago, where a woman's (Joyce Carol Vincent) body was found three years after she'd died, with the TV still on, and layers of dust around on everything in her flat. Obviously a terribly terribly devastating story, made even sadder by the fact that no newspapers could find any information about her, and nobody could understand why nobody cared enough about her to not notice that she was missing. It would be really really easy to go the sob story route with this, but that's not what this documentary does.
Instead, it tries to piece together a picture of her life. By talking to old friends, boyfriends, flatmates and so on, the film goes beyond the headlines and tries to bring back a portrait of a person, someone who lived and laughed and ate and sang and generally tried to enjoy her life. This is not to say that the portrait of her is one of an entirely unflawed person- on the contrary, I definitely got the impression that she centred her life around whoever was her boyfriend at the time, and that she was notoriously bad at keeping in touch with people (hence her tragic end) but that only made her more real, and more someone who did have a life, rather than just a horrible death.
Of course, there's a limit to what we can know about Joyce. We can't know how she really felt when she was with the men she was with, we can't know what her final thoughts were of, we can't know why she didn't feel the need to keep in touch with people, and we can't ever really expect to fully understand who she really was. But in a way, this is true of everyone; and in another way it doesn't really matter- just the trying to understand her, and wanting to know more about her life, means that she stops being just a sensationalist story in the newspapers, and starts being real. In watching Dreams of a Life, you always want to know more about Joyce, and just in that it succeeds as a film.
And yes, it's still a horrible story. But at the same time, it's so heartening to know that there were people who loved her, and still care about her, and who would have done anything to help her if they'd known she was in trouble. There's this one ex-boyfriend, Martin, who's still clearly very much in love with her, and his sadness at not being able to have helped her just broke my heart (and also made me cry, a bit)- and I almost want to be angry at both of them, for not having just held onto each other, but it's all too sad to be angry about. Just really, too sad.
You see on the poster, where it says 'Nothing has lingered in my mind like this'? I totally feel that way about this documentary. I very much recommend watching it if you get the chance, and maybe make sure you have some tissues near you as you watch this film give an unknown woman her life back, in a narrative sense at the very least.