MOONLIGHT SONATA: DEAFNESS IN THREE MOVEMENTS IS A COMING-OF-AGE STORY ABOUT A BOY GROWING UP, HIS GRANDFATHER GROWING OLD, AND LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN, WHO CRAFTED HIS “MOONLIGHT SONATA” AS HE WAS GOING DEAF.
Director Irene Taylor Brodsky once again turns the camera on her deaf parents and, now, her 11-year-old deaf son Jonas, who has cochlear implants and is discovering a profound world of hearing—and music. As Jonas learns the first movement of Beethoven’s iconic sonata on the piano, his grandparents, deaf for nearly 80 years, watch with deepening awe what time and technology have bestowed their grandson. But when Jonas struggles with the sound of his mistakes, Beethoven’s own musical journey comes to life in an animated world of watercolor and haunting soundscapes. As the great composer loses the sense that brought him so much music and fame, Jonas’s grandfather Paul loses his grasp on his mind.
Their lives weave a sonata over three centuries, about all we can discover once we push beyond what has been lost.
I can hear, but deafness consumes me. I am a daughter of deafness and, now, a mother too. After I discovered my son, Jonas, was going deaf as a toddler, my sound designer told me we could reproduce his gradual disconnect from hearing. As a filmmaker, that enthralled me. As a mother, it frightened me.
I’ve been down this road before. My first feature documentary, Hear and Now, about my deaf parents’ problematic journey into the world of sound, showed me how much film can be a catalyst for empathy. Creating a first-person narrative about the people closest to me was particularly challenging, at times painfully self-aware. But the honesty impacted me and my audiences.
The film went on to win the Audience Award at its 2007 Sundance Film Festival premiere, a Peabody Award, and debuted on HBO. My parents and I were invited to present the film across Europe, in Korea, Abu Dhabi, and Russia. People approached us at screenings, and wrote letters afterwards, sharing their own feelings of isolation, the desire for connectedness and their newfound understanding of deafness and all that it encompasses.
So when my son told me he wanted to learn the Moonlight Sonata, composed by Beethoven as he went deaf, I was cautious but resolute, and began filming. Then, my father developed dementia, and soon their three storylines revealed an eerie parallel. Paul’s loss of mind was a clue to what Beethoven might have felt losing something so precious to him. As Jonas learned to play the sonata, I read Beethoven’s letters and listened to his canon over and over again. I felt assured that my son could find his own true expression, shaped by deafness, just like Beethoven did.
What excites me most about Moonlight Sonata is our use of cinematic tools to delve into the senses. We portray sound and memory through animation, and we use vast archives of home movies, vérité footage, immersive soundscape and original score to craft a rich mosaic of what it means to find vital expression in the midst of loss.
— Irene Taylor Brodsky