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Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements
MOONLIGHT SONATA is a deeply personal memoir about a deaf boy growing up, his deaf grandfather growing old, and Ludwig van Beethoven the year he was blindsided by deafness and wrote his iconic sonata. Their lives weave a story about what we discover when we push beyond loss.
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Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements

Running Time
Feature Film
89 minutes

Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements

“Pssssst!” Our story begins with filmmaker and mother Irene Taylor Brodsky audibly trying to get her infant son’s attention. He is already going deaf, but she does not yet know it. 

The HBO Documentary Film, MOONLIGHT SONATA is the visceral and intimate story of a deaf boy growing up, a deaf man growing old, and perhaps the world’s most famous deaf person, Ludwig van Beethoven, who crafted a sonata that would resonate across time and cultures. 

The story begins with Jonas’ first years of life going deaf, undergoing surgery for cochlear implants, and then discovering a newfound world of hearing — and music. 

Fast-forwarding, now 11-years-old, Jonas has gotten cochlear implant and can choose when to be deaf and when not to be. He is struggling to learn the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata, an anguished composition Beethoven wrote when he began going deaf. Beethoven’s story is told by entering a nineteenth-century animated world alive with watercolor imagery, haunting soundscapes, and original score and witnessing Beethoven descend, painfully, into the loss of something that gave him so much beauty. Jonas’s teacher, Colleen, is the film’s de facto music historian guiding us through Beethoven’s state of mind at the time of writing the piece. Meanwhile, Jonas’ grandparents, Paul and Sally, who have been deaf for nearly 80 years, watch their grandson learn to play the piano and feel the gulf that lies between them. 

As Jonas delves deeper into Beethoven’s sonata, the story becomes an intergenerational, inter-era tale of deafness. Paul becomes increasingly forgetful and frustrated: he is losing another sense – his mind. As Jonas navigates deafness and Paul dementia, Beethoven’s process of writing Moonlight Sonata and unearthing creativity from loss serves as a poetic analogue. Like Beethoven, grandfather and grandson must tune into the voice inside of themselves to survive a world that was not built for them. 

Much like the iconic piece after which it is titled, MOONLIGHT SONATA is a story about loss and, more importantly, what we discover when we push beyond it.

Filmmaker Notes:

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.

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Year(s) screened
  • 2019
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