'Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements': Irene Brodsky's look at deafness is rich, powerful and intimate

The one-and-a-half-hour film centers around the director's younger son, Jonas Brodsky, her parents, Paul and Sally, and the way they deal with not hearing the world.


                            'Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements': Irene Brodsky's look at deafness is rich, powerful and intimate

Irene Taylor Brodsky's 'Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements' is an intimate, rich and moving piece of storytelling that is well worth the effort of sitting through it. The one-and-a-half-hour film centers around the director's younger son, Jonas Brodsky, her parents, Paul and Sally, and the way they deal with not hearing the world. This documentary attempts to understand deafness through these two generations.  

Sally and Paul were the subjects of Brodsky’s first feature, 'Hear and Now', and one can tell the closeness she feels to the subject. Growing up, she saw it as something that was normal and that was just it. When Jonas was born, she had an inkling if deafness would be a hand-me-down. Initially, it wasn't but as Jonas grew, he lost his ability to hear.

(Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements/HBO)

Many visits to the doctors gave them a way to help him hear, and Jonas got cochlear implants that allowed him to pursue his interest in music — and that's when right out of the blue, the boy decided he would learn how to play Beethoven’s 'Moonlight Sonata'. Now Beethoven wrote this piece while he was losing his own hearing and unknown to Jonas, like Beethoven, he was on his way to find his voice.

The documentary weaves in the pain of her mother, Sally, and the ease with which Jonas takes on deafness, telling the story of just how much difference technology and age can make. At one point, sitting at the doctor's office, Sally and Paul whisper to each other, maybe deafness won't even be a thing in the future. "Not in our lifetime," Paul says, shaking his head.

Sally's deafness set in just like her grandchild's but she learned how to go about life not hearing. When she did learn to hear, she realized words don't say much anyway, Brodsky says. Sally is told it's a "typo" and a "variant in her genes", where the "product" didn't come out like it was supposed to. She confirms if its really a mistake multiple times, almost as though she couldn't believe it. 

However, the weight of closure momentarily subsides when she sees Jonas perform the Sonata perfectly, after months of frustration and dejection. He finishes with a flourish - quite like this story. 

'Moonlight Sonata' pairs dramatic and sad piano with a story that shows no middle ground. It explores how deafness is not a mistake, but at the same time points out how difficult it can be. While that could be seen as a flaw in the film, it is probably closest Brodsky has come to reality. 

'Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements' can be streamed on HBO. 

Watch the trailer below:



 

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