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Music Got Me Here

By Noah Schwartz | December 2, 2020

Music Got Me Here is a journey of miraculous recovery through music therapy. Directed by Susan Koch, the documentary follows the story of Forrest Allen and Tom Sweitzer. 18-year-old daredevil Forrest Allen was left in a coma with a part of his skull removed after a devastating crash while snowboarding without a helmet. Sweitzer is a newly graduated music therapist who believes that he can help bring Allen back from his vegetative state after the horrific accident. This road to recovery spans half a decade, 15 surgeries, countless hours of singing, dancing, and playing instruments. While certainly framing itself as a feel-good film, its ability to confront difficult questions gave the production much more emotional depth and nuance than I anticipated.

One tough question was not about Allen’s physical state but his mental one. His horror at being trapped in a body that couldn’t move or talk and his deep regret over his carelessness are important aspects of his recuperation. These aspects are not as easily overcome as a physical ailment and don’t exactly fit in with the healing narrative that the movie follows. The most powerful moment which best exemplifies this internal struggle came when, a few years into his recovery, Allen mentioned that he still hasn’t forgiven himself. While I advocate for him eventually forgiving himself, I can only imagine how insurmountable such a task would feel after going through what he has. The fact that Music Got Me Here shows him still grappling with the fact that his young life’s lost years was partially his fault is commendable.

“…a newly graduated music therapist…believes that he can help bring Allen back from his vegetative state…”

Despite this, throughout its runtime, the focus of Music Got Me Here is never able to crystallize. The film isn’t sure whether it is about the power of music therapy itself or the power of music therapy through Allen’s story. There are entire segments dedicated to how Sweitzer became a music therapist, the other kids he helps, and the efficacy of music therapy. This wouldn’t be as big of a deal if it didn’t take up such a significant portion of the movie.

But given that these sections are such a large part of the film and have little to nothing to do with Allen, the movie would be more effective if it had a sharper focus on Sweitzer and his other patients’ improvements and experiences with music therapy. Conversely, keeping Allen at the center of the story would give time to flesh out his family’s experience during this ordeal. In particular, his brother, who does not get much screen time, seems like he has more to say. Since the movie never commits to following one participant, I couldn’t fully connect to either of them.

Music Got Me Here (2020)

Directed and Written: Susan Koch

Starring: Forrest Allen, Tom Sweitzer, Rae Stone, Kent Allen, Austin Allen, Renee Fleming, Dr. Francis Collins, etc.

Movie score: 6/10

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"…could not grasp what [Susan Koch] was saying while watching this documentary."

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