Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements is a new documentary film that hopes to inspire because of its tale of a young boy overcoming his disability. While the subject and his story are definitely inspiring, the movie sadly isn’t as impactful or effective as it should be because it aims too high and misses.
The film tells the story of a young boy, Jonas, born deaf, who is inspired by the stories his (also deaf) grandparents and the musician Ludvig van Beethoven to push beyond his impairment and learn the eponymous piece, which is difficult for anyone to learn, much less someone who had hearing difficulties. Jonas’s story is fascinating, but unfortunately, it is dragged down by two less interesting subplots, causing all three narratives to feel underdeveloped.
Perhaps the biggest flaw with the movie is that it attempts to tell too many stories. Although the three stories are connected, all three cannot be explored in the necessary depth in a single hour and thirty minute long documentary. Had the director, Irene Taylor Brodsky, stuck with a single story as the focus of her film, the result would have been much more concise and successful.
Jonas’s grandparents are an important part of his story because of the role they play in his life and his struggle with deafness. However, there is a portion of the movie which explores their own experiences, and that does not add particularly much to the story at hand. Instead, this feels like an unnecessary tangent that does parallel Jonas’s story but isn’t meaningful enough to warrant the length of film devoted to it.
This issue is even more prevalent with the movie’s exploration of Beethoven’s story. Again, Beethoven’s story is inspiring to Jonas, and as such, has a place in the film. That said, Jonas’s quest to perform Beethoven’s concerto is enough to get this point across. This movie is not about Beethoven — it is about Jonas — so we do not need a narrative of Beethoven’s life.
Emotionally, the film does have some impact because deafness is a condition with tremendous effects on the lives of those involved, and these stories are not told nearly enough. However, the muddy nature of the narrative prevents the movie from driving home that point. The frequent sidebars prevent us from ever fully connecting with Jonas, and as such, his experiences don’t feel as weighty as they should.
On a technical level, the film is strong and quite ambitious. The most interesting parts of the movie are the watercolor sequences, but these are what is used to illustrate Beethoven’s story, and as such, they feel largely unnecessary. The film definitely looks and sounds good, but the solid execution does not mask the movie’s narrative inconsistencies.
Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements very well could have been an important film about deafness, but it is unlikely to make a big splash. Brodsky’s personal connection to the topic is obvious, though, so maybe her next movie we be as impactful as it should be.
Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements hits theaters on September 13.