It is most probably one of the most shocking and interesting stories that you have heard, one among those that, while you read, you can hardly hold yourself from bursting into tears. It is a story marked by pain and unresolved questions. A story about loneliness and companionship. A story about life and death. It is the story of Joyce Carol Vincent.
Joyce Carol Vincent was found dead in 2006, lying at her sofa bed of her small apartment in Wood Green, in London. Her skeleton was discovered by a team of officials from a north London housing association, during the process of repossessing the flat. The investigations have shown that this woman had passed away three years earlier, in 2003, at the age of 38. The day of her discovery, 3 years later, the television was still on in the same channel, many dishes were lying in the sink, unopened Christmas gifts were down on her floor and a pile of letters was outside her door.
Who was this woman in reality? Why did she quit life so ingloriously? How is it conceivable for a woman to die without having anyone noticing it, in a city like London, with such a strong vibe, in a city where communication, socializing, activities, people, opportunities never cease to exist? In other words, how is it possible for a woman to die so noiselessly, in a city that never sleeps? To which extent can this story reveal a huge sense of loneliness, a profound abandonment of a human being, engaged in social life?
The British press did not offer an adequate covering to this matter and the police stopped investigating the case of Joyce, since, apparently, it proved very difficult to unfold the reasons of her strange death, and to find elements concerning her life, her social and personal environment. It was so sad to find that her death was trivially discussed in a number of internet chat rooms and social media with comments such as: ‘”What’s really sad is no one noticed she was missing – must have been one miserable bitch.”
Now, what makes this narrative really powerful, is that another woman, the filmmaker and director Carol Morley decided to bring Joyce back to the light and not let her disappear in the dark. The moment Morley was informed about Joyce’s story in the media and as soon as she realised that the British media were not going to go deeper through Joyce’s puzzling past, she decided to set a really important goal: and this was a passionate and committed exploration of Joyce’s life, with the ultimate purpose to untwist her hidden personality and bring her back to life, a new and symbolic life that could be felt through the art dynamic. The outcome of this effort that lasted for many years is the creation of the documentary-film ‘Dreams of a Life’.
Carol Morley’s effort and research gave us a first description of Joyce’s profile. Joyce, in contrast with the picture that most people could have in their minds knowing her inglorious death, was one very attractive, beautiful and successful woman with a promising career- this can be easily observed by the fact that she was working for Ernst & Young-, also a woman with an intense personal life and with an artistic talent-her friends reported that one of her unfulfilled dreams was to become a singer-. Her colleagues unconditionally said that Joyce was very responsible in her job, a smart person with very good career prospects. Someone among the people that were interviewed by Morley stated that Joyce was the kind of the woman who constitutes a threat for every other woman, as she had the ‘ perfect combination’: attractive, intelligent, successful.
This description of Joyce’s personality, as it was revealed by Morley’s careful investigation, generates a lot of questions and confusion: How can a woman like her, privileged by nature and society die alone, abandoned, forgotten, without being noticed by anyone of the people she knew, anyone of her lovers or admirers, anyone of her colleagues? What kind of mystery, isolation, despair could that girl possibly hide? The people she knew reported that Joyce would never talk about herself, her feelings, her personal matters. Isn’t it strange that such a popular girl could not open her heart to anyone of her friends? And, were all of these people she knew real friends? Did anyone really manage to know and meet the real Joyce behind the picture of Joyce? Did anyone of her lovers really care about her? All these questions remain without an answer, but the film ‘Dreams of a Life’ tries courageously to shed some light on them.
Without trying to emerge more deeply into the details of Joyce’s life, I want to focus on what makes this story special: and these are the implications it has for the modern way of life, the quality of the relationships between human beings and the mystery or despair that might be hidden dark behind the mask of a happily led and shiny life.
Can this story be the marker of a silent isolation and unhappiness that the modern human being is faced with? Who could ever imagine that a girl with the perfect material preconditions, a charismatic woman with the perfect looks would ever escape from life in such a terrible way and that no one would even suffer from her loss, simply because no one understood that this girl was missing from life? If someone ever succeeds in conceiving of and reflecting on this incident, then I strongly believe that maybe the foundations of a ‘glamorous’ and successful life as we crave for it nowadays might get irreparably ruined. Maybe the financial security, the material satisfaction, the conventional and at the same time sufficient interest for activities that are generally conceived of as sources of material gain and recognition, the social connections, the external image of success, the physical privileged looks and a superficially glossy life might not be good enough to save someone from anonymity and death.
In Joyce’s story, possibly no one from her friendly environment did really look out for Joyce, for the soul behind the body, the possible sadness behind the happiness, the person behind the beautiful surface. It is highly likely that no one attempted to enter her world- for, if we aim for a definition of the word ‘relationship’, we have to accept that there is a common point of convergence between two separate, distinctive worlds. And apparently, Joyce’s world stayed hidden, either because no one tried to reach it, or because Joyce herself did not want to reveal it. Even if we accept that it was due to her own faults that no one understood her concerns and her despair, it still remains difficult to imagine that not a single person wondered where Joyce was for three whole years. This woman was lying for three years dead in a bedsit and no one even noticed it! So lonely, that no one noticed that a human being was abandoning life in an apartment where everything was collapsing, along with Joyce’s body and soul. Even if Joyce was the worst person in the world, the most antisocial and the most unfriendly-which was not the case-, I am asking: who deserves to die in such a way? This death is certainly one of the most cruel and inhuman deaths that a person can face.
The true story behind the mystery surrounding her death will never be totally revealed, since Joyce unfortunately is not alive anymore. At her late thirties, she said goodbye to the earthly world, desiring, maybe, to escape towards another life, less cruel, less unsparing than the life she led, away from the inhumanity of the human element-what an irony-. The causes of her death have not been discovered, and, according to the filmmaker of ‘Dreams of a life’ Carol Morley do not matter so much, as the need for the discovery of her personality and of the elements of her character matter, so that, through the magic and power of the art of the film, a creation of her life from the beginning happens and Joyce is brought to light. The aim of the film is to provide an answer to all these unresolved questions, to accomplish the ambitious and admirable task of giving true value in Joyce’s life, and to breathe life into her dreams, even after her death, so that this girl will not be forgotten.
Without having watched the film yet- but terribly looking forward to it- I can sense Carol Morley’s urgent need to offer a dimension of eternity to Joyce Vincent, a woman who gave up her dreams so unjustly, leaving behind her only a big question: why? I profoundly sympathize with Morley’s work and efforts and I wholeheartedly admire her persistence to save Joyce from obscurity and namelessness. And I think that she was successful in her vision: thousands of people talk about Joyce’s story and many more are taken by her story, through watching the film, hearing about her story in the media, searching about her on the internet.
Morley achieved in making Joyce heard, in giving her a voice: Joyce was neither a celebrity, nor a famous scientist who radically transformed some aspects of humanity, or a politician, or one of the personalities that are usually honoured through the making of films after their death. Joyce was a woman like everyone else, yet so special and important, like every human being in this world. Her value is and will remain unconfined: you do not need to be a famous person, a genius, someone who stayed in history to be honoured after your death, respected, recognized and loved. You just have to be a human being, who fights every day in this life to make a difference, to obtain a place in the world, for the sake of your humanity.
Maybe Joyce found her place and all the love she deserved in another sphere of existence, more beautiful, more fair. No one will ever learn. However, the art, through the film of Carol Morley proves that human beings are capable of the cruelest but also of the noblest, most generous behavior. Maybe the people who knew Joyce personally represent the cruelest part of the story, but Carol Morley represents the most generous part of the story: what I want to say is that every human being is made of the same essence: this means that the hope for a more just and loving interpretation of the human being can never stop existing. Joyce Vincent, through someone else, a woman who had never met her, became alive again in people’s eyes. She became honoured, respected and made people rethink of life and their priorities. The power of the art made the unknown Joyce known and loved and offered her a sense of immortality. I think it is the best recompensation that Joyce could ever ask for, even beyond her expectations.
It is undoubtedly certain that Joyce Vincent died unfairly, in a world where nobody had the time to say to her goodbye. Life, however, was owing her a proper goodbye and an unconditional, sincere ‘encounter’ coming from the heart. So, now, 8 years after her death, countless people will watch a film dedicated to her, will read the film reviews, will know about her name. Countless people will empathize with her, will meet her in their own unique way, some of them will love her and will never forget about her story. They say that nobody can ever be really lost after their death, so long as people who think about him exist. If this popular saying has a true dimension, Joyce Vincent was not lost in obscurity, and will never be. Let us wish that in the difficult times we go through, more and more pieces of art like ‘dreams of a life’ will exist to remind us the importance of being humane and the meaning of honouring and respecting this attribute in every possible way. Rest in Peace Joyce.
The film ‘Dreams of a Life’ was released for the first time in the London Film Festival in October 2011 and was officially released in theatres around London in March of 2012.
More information on http://www.dreamsofalife.com