What lasting impact have you had on the lives you pass through? If you disappeared, would anyone miss you?
Carol Morley’s haunting and insightful documentary Dreams of a Life explores these questions by telling the story of Joyce Vincent, a 38-year-old woman whose body was found in her North London bedsit. Joyce was a vibrant young woman with a busy life but for three years her death had gone undetected by neighbours, family or friends. The film seeks to trace her life and understand why she died alone and unnoticed.
This is a powerful examination of modern loneliness and the transiency of our lives. It raises difficult questions around how we define and build lasting relationships in the urban sprawl of the modern city when we don’t even know our neighbours.
With her captivating and beautifully made film, Morley pieces together the fragments of Joyce’s life like a jigsaw and brings a female narrative to the screen through imaginative and unique, hybrid storytelling. Like an archaeological excavation, it combines interviews, documents, dramatic reconstruction and found footage to paint a picture of Joyce and celebrate her life, but also to examine the underlying cracks in our society that could lead to a woman dying without detection.
The poetic resonance of the film comes from the dramatic reconstructions that are weaved throughout. Through Zawe Ashton’s breathtaking performance—a largely silent yet all-encompassing triumph of small details—Joyce comes alive for us. Yet we still don’t know her. She is elusive and mysterious—as tangible as gossamer. There is a dream-like quality to the film that goes straight to the heart.
The film touched me deeply. We see the fragments of a life cut short—full of promise, dreams and hopes. That feeling of loss has stayed with me. She was elusive and guarded, yes, but the lack of community let her down. The tides turn and she could be any of us. It makes me appreciate my life, and cherish others so they don’t just drift away.
I think about the film often. I think about Joyce. That’s down to the unique and compelling way her story was imagined and told by Morley. That is powerful filmmaking.
Dreams of a Life is distributed by DogWoof. The film is available to stream on Amazon, Fandor , iTunes and Google Play. and on disc from Amazon and through DogWoof. Follow Dreams of a Life on the film’s website, and Carol Morley on Facebook, Twitter, and her website.