Review: Dreams of a Life

Well it’s nearly Christmas- a time for, above many other things, spending time with your nearest and dearest. Even those who don’t live in the same area as their family, or don’t even like any of their family members, will find a special groups of friends- or one special person at least- to spend this festive holiday with. Even if the usual suspects are all busy, there would be somebody out there who would be willing to lay an extra place at their Christmas table for you… right? If, like me, your mother leaves 20 voicemails on your phone when you don’t answer after three rings, the following story may be hard to believe.

Joyce Vincent was found dead in a lonely bedsit in Wood Green- surrounded by ungiven Christmas presents. Her dead body lay undiscovered for three years. Yep, three years. She wasn’t a junkie or a prostitute, she had friends and a job- yet her corpse was found by a bailiff. The question remains in the minds of every single individual that has had the fortune of seeing this film- how on Earth did this happen?

Director Carol Morley explores the story with a mixture of ‘reconstructed imaginings’ (she doesn’t like the word ‘reconstructions’- long story but bang on the money) and talking head interviews by those that knew her. It was through talking to these people that Morley gathered and put together the story and formed an idea of who Joyce was before she died.

The story is perhaps so very powerful and resonating because it taps in to the most basic human fear- the fear of being forgotten, or of not being loved. Yet the remarkable thing about the film, and perhaps the biggest reward that can come out of the viewing, was that the film creates more questions than it answers. There is no resolution- not one thing you hear from the mouth of anyone is something you can be totally certain of, and so Joyce becomes almost a fictional character- a figment of everyone else’s imagination. The film has been compared to Clio Barnard’s ‘The Arbor’, because the film is as much about people’s recollection of a person than it is about the person themself. Everyone, including the viewer, draws a conclusion about who she was and what brought about her death, though the real tragedy is of course that there is no resolution, no possible comfort of knowing what really happened.

The film has is also similar to Morley’s film earlier film ‘The Alcohol Years’, where Morley interviews people who knew her in a stage of her life where she was lost in a boozy haze, a period that she has very little recollection of. But the catharsis that Morely must’ve felt when having these gaps filled in is sadly something that can not be felt after viewing Dreams of a Life, simply because there are no answers.

There is so much that can be said about the film, and is sure to be the topic of many conversations for a long time to come, but if there is one thing that must be stressed it’s this- the film is absolutely outstanding. The subject is confronted with such a dignity- one that was missing from the original headline that caught Morley’s eye in The Sun newspaper; there’s no tacky conspiracy theories, no grizzly photo’s or details- just a very sad story about a rather sad girl- well, that’s my theory anyway- form your own and go and see it.

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