Lionel in a Film

Motherless Brookyln is a novel with many features. Most of these are original not often seen in many other novels. In Motherless Brooklyn , language plays a huge role and that’s what I think this film should be based on. Lionel’s tics play an extremely important role in this novel and they are what gives this novel its character.

Lionel’s tics play an important role because it shows us what kind of person he is and what his daily struggles are. His tics also are at times, very funny. In the opening scene of the novel, the first thing we see is one of his tics. Lionel is explaining what it’s like living with tourettes and he has this huge build up for the words “Eat Me!”(pg.2).  This scene would be very important for this film because we have this build up of emotions and then have this very random tic in response. His random outbursts make the novel much more interesting and in a film would be a key aspect of showing the audience the main and most interesting character :Lionel Essrog. Throughout the novel he has many scenes of his tics, another scene that is worth putting extra effort into is the hospital scene. When Minna is getting rushed into surgery, Lionel is extremely nervous and stressed out, that is when his tics get progressively worse. When Lionel is speaking to Gilbert he begins to babble out words like ” Guywalks, walksinto, guyswalkinto”(pg30). This is an intense scene because Minna was in surgery and no one knew what was going on but with Lionel’s tics, it adds a bit of humor to this deep and dark situation. Continuing on the idea of the setting , we see that the setting would also be a big part of this film.

This novel is set in Brooklyn, and for Lionel this is a very important part of who he is. One scene that stands out to me is when Lionel and Gilbert were trying to find Minna when they lost track of him in the beginning of the book.

“”Greenpoint’s Brooklyn, Gilbert,” I said, before thinking.” We’re in Queens.” Then we both turned out heads like cartoon mice spotting a cat. The Pulaski Bridge.”(20)

Brooklyn is a big part of Lionel because it’s where he feels at home and those are the streets he knows. The setting of the film must be clearly stated because it is of great importance. Lionel always connects to his home, which he finds it Brooklyn. Later on in the novel when Lionel meets Kimmery ,the setting and his tics go hand in hand. When Kimmery offers Lionel to go back to the Zendo to meditate with Kimmery. The scene is set, a quiet meditation center, and there is Lionel, sitting there and out of no where

“” Ziggedy Zendoodah,” I said aloud. My erection dimmed, energy venting elsewhere.” Pierogi Monster Zen master zealous neighbour. Zazen zaftig Zsa Zsa go-bare.” I rapped the scalp of the sitter in front of me. ” Zippity go figure.”” (201)

This scene is something you can imagine while reading the novel. You can imgaine what people are thinking while Lionel is shouting this out in the most sacred and individual moment someone can have. This scene shows both the importance of how the setting can affect Lionel’s tics and why both of these must be a core aspect of this film.

Lastly, his tics make the secondary characters act a certain way towards Lionel. On his own the tics make up most of this novel, but the way other characters view his tics are also of great importance. There are many secondary characters in this novel, but the interactions that I find are most important are the ones he has with Loomis, Kimmery and himself. When Lionel and Loomis interact I find its important for many different reasons. Firstly, Loomis can’t grasp the idea of tourettes, he thinks Lionel is playing a game with him. ” Jesus Lionel, you crack me up. You never quit that routine.” (pg123) Loomis always referrers Lionel’s tics to a routine. He would assume that Lionel only did this to make other people laugh, when in reality this is what his syndrome looks and sounds like. I find this an important interaction because it gives light into a real world problem; how people view mental disorders. Back in those days, mental disorders weren’t something most people thought about. They were not educated on mental illness or its effects and symptoms. I find putting this in a film would show people that even with a disorder or syndrome , that you are capable of doing anything you wish or desire.

Lionel’s interactions with Kimmery. These two have a few interactions but the ones that are the most important are the following.  Firstly, when Lionel is at Kimmery’s apartment, his tics seem to be much less noticeable.  When Lionel goes on his little outburst Kimmery simple responses with ” what do those words mean?”(pg217). This interaction I find is important because we get to finally understand if these words do have any meaning to Lionel. Kimmery and Lionel get very intimate in this part of the novel and once he is intimate with Kimmery, we see that his tics have finally calmed down. This also referrers back to the point I was making about Loomis. We see that just because he has a syndrome doesn’t mean he can’t have interactions with or close bonds/ relationships with other people.  While at first we think Kimmery is okay with Lionels tourettes , as the novel continues we see that she begins to have issues with his tics. The scene I am refereeing to is when Lionel continuously calls Kimmery from his car. “Yeah, mmmm- but I don’t want anything, you know, crazy in my life right now”(pg258). The word crazy seems to effect Lionel in a certain way. He felt a bond with Kimmery and I feel that as soon as she referred him as ” crazy” he began to think she was just like everyone else. Kimmery was the one person who could calm down his tics, that is also why having these interactions with her emphasised in the film would add to it greatly.

Lastly, Lionel himself. I know Lionel is one character but I find that the way he describes his tourettes can be another. Lionel describes his tourettes as a secondary character. That his tourettic brain isn’t his entire self.  As Lionel says ” I had wanted to think vengeance wasn’t me, wasn’t Tourettic or Essroggian at all. Like the subway ,say”(pg310).I just find it interesting how he adds Tourettic and Essroggian . I find it makes it seem like his tourettes is a different part of him. He has accepted his tourettes but he referrers to it as its own thing, which I find interesting. I find his tics would be the basis of the film because of how many other concepts are connected with them.














Works Cited

Lethem,  Jonathan. Motherless Brooklyn. Vintage Books, 1999.


Siobhan McDonagh



One thought on “Lionel in a Film

  1. This is a good start. Lots of good ideas here. I have a thought. You have the following sentence in your last paragraph: “Lionel describes his tourettes as a secondary character.” This is super interesting. Can this be the main idea of your paper? I think it could make an excellent main idea.

    This draft is good, but moving forward, you want to think about your main idea. It’s not always clear how all these ideas fit together. If you consider Lionel’s tics as as secondary character, that could give focus to all your arguments.

    You’re starting to analyze here, which is great. For your next draft, try and go deeper. You have many statements like this: “Lionel’s tics play an important role because it shows us what kind of person he is and what his daily struggles are.” True. But, be more specific. What do you mean by an “important” role? What kind of person is he? What are his struggles? I know this is the first sentence of the paragraph, but you don’t necessarily get more specific in the rest of your paragraph. In a later paragraph, you say, “he word crazy seems to effect Lionel in a certain way.” Which way? What is a certain way? You have many such vague statements in your draft. Make them more specific.

    Also, always consider the context of the citations you provide. For example, you say, “he has this huge build up for the words ‘Eat me!'” But, what is the build up? What is happening at this point? Explain the context. Meaning comes from what is happening at that point in the novel.

    Finally, I think you should consider Lionel’s journey a bit more. HOw does he change throughout the novel? Is his relationship to his tics that same at the end as it was at the beginning? or does it evolve? Why? This can be part of your main idea. Something about hwo his tics are like a secondary character, and how this character changes throughout the novel. Just my two cents.

    This is a good start. You have a lot to work with going forward. With a focused main idea and a deeper look at your evidence, this could be a great paper. Nicely done so far.


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