Dreams of a Life

A heartbreaking documentary about how sometimes someone can just fall between the cracks

Dreams of a Life tells the story, through a combination of documentary and re-enactment, of the life, and death, of Joyce Vincent a young woman who was found in her flat, three years after she died sitting on her sofa surrounded by Christmas presents she was wrapping for friends.

I say friends, it seems from this story that Joyce had many acquaintances, but few real friends. The story unfolds to reveal a vivacious, talented, popular girl who had a profound effect on the lives of those who she knew and who knew her. Joyce had jobs, she had boyfriends, she could sing, she was the life and soul of many parties and yet, as her health declined and she withdrew from society she found herself increasingly lonely and alone.

This loneliness compounded itself when she died alone in her flat. No-one missed her. No-one thought to go and check on her. It was only after her bank account could no longer support her rent payments that the local council entered her house to find her skeletal remains. Joyce was 38 when she died.

Filmmaker Carol Morley tells this story through a mixture of recreated scenes from Joyce’s life and interviews with people who knew her, work colleagues, friends, boyfriends, officials but tellingly no family.

Zawe Ashton Plays Joyce in these flashbacks on her life and excellently captures the feeling of someone surrounded by people but entirely alone. The flashback sequences are tightly formed and do not dwell on the circumstances of Joyce’s discovery while not shying away from the tragedy of what occurred.

It is hard to imagine something similar happening now, just eight years after Joyce’s death, in the Facebook generation but one of the most harrowing thing about the film is that almost everyone watching will have someone they have not heard from for a few years; and the personal reflections from Joyce’s friends that one phone call could have changed things is hard to shake.

The most affecting of the interviews is Martin (pictured), a previous boyfriend of Joyce who had been in an on and off relationship with Joyce some years previous to her death. Martin’s story is almost as sad as Joyce’s own as his guilt and trauma at the death of someone he clearly loved is writ large across every single thing he says throughout the film. Other interviewees are less easy to empathise with, and while confused as to how someone they thought they know could disappear in the way Vincent did, it is Martin who is clearly the most effected by her death. His final lines are truly heartbreaking and show that even if Joyce died alone, she did not die unloved.

Dreams of a Life is an excellently formed documentary which poses as many questions as it answer and shows, in stark reality, the effect that our declining sense of community can have on individuals.

****

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