Ed Norton or Lionel Essrog?

Motherless Brooklyn Rough Draft

Hey Ed, how are you? I was just reading online that you had an idea to direct Lethem’s novel Motherless Brooklyn. I also saw that you wanted to star in it, you are taking on a lot for one project. I too see a lot of potential for this screenplay. I am super happy and excited for you but the only thing is, I saw that the date on that article was February 20th, 2014. I couldn’t find anything more recent so I thought to myself that maybe you reached a point where you don’t know what to do anymore. I have an idea. Lionel Essrog, the detective with Tourette’s syndrome, is one of the more interesting and unique characters I have ever seen in a detective novel. Lethem tells the story from the perspective of Lionel, and what a story to tell. Right off the start we see that Lionel is unique, on the first page of the novel he lets us know that “[Lionel’s] got Tourette’s” (1). Now Ed, I’m not saying that because Lionel has Tourette’s makes him unique, plenty of people have Tourette’s, what makes him unique is how Lethem uses his syndrome throughout the novel. This is why you should focus on Lionel as a character when you’re making this movie.

Obviously Lionel being the main character you should put a lot of focus on him, but you have to focus on his Tourette’s just as much. The two go hand and hand.  One part especially is the novel’s second chapter where it shows the readers how Lionel deals with the development of his syndrome. Lionel notices that he is different from all the other kids in the orphanage. He knows it is because of his syndrome, but all he wants to do is feel like the other kids. “As it was I was undersold goods, a twitcher and nose-picker retriever from the library instead of the schoolyard, probably a retard of some type, certainly a regrettable, inferior offering” (38). Lionel views himself as less of a person than all the other boys, Lionel doesn’t think that he would get chosen over the other orphans, until Frank Minna comes in and chooses him and three other children. Then Lionel starts to feel a bit more accepted because his new family start to get used to his Tourette’s. Frank Minna was the only guy who gave Lionel a bit of hope, “Life without Frank Minna, the charismatic King of Brooklyn, would be unimaginable” (back of book) JEFF’S NOTE: WHAT IS “BACK OF BOOK?”. Frank was also on Lionel’s mind throughout the novel, “I had a dream about Minna… I must have laughed of at least smiled” (309), he was always thinking of him in some way. JEFF’S NOTE: THIS PARAGRAPH STARTS OFF STRONGLY, WITH LIONEL’S CONCEPTION OF HIMSELF. WHEN YOU START TO TALK ABOUT FRANK, IT LOSES STEAM. YOU’RE NOT REALLY SAYING ANYTHING INTERESTING. LIFE IS TOUGH WITHOUT FRANK. OKAY. WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH LIONEL AND HIS SYNDROME?

Maybe you can even play around with Lionel’s Tourette’s, because the reader can clearly notice throughout the novel that Lionel’s syndrome do strengthen and do weaken throughout the novel. We see that Lionel’s tics occur less often when he is eating and when he distracted by something sexually. And on the other hand we see that Lionel’s tics happen more frequently when he is nervous about something or when he is somewhat being targeted.  First we see that when Lionel is eating, he is calm and the tics don’t come out of him but may still be present in his mind, in one of the first scenes in the novel, where he is eating White Castle we notice that Lionel likes the number six, “then delivered six redundant slaps to the same spot to ventilate my brain… six was a lucky number tonight, six burgers, six forty-five. So six slaps.” (5) He isn’t verbally ticking but his brain is still ticking because he had to tap the same spot six times. We see it more when it comes to his sexual arousal. Lionel admits to it when he is with Kimmery, “Kimmery’s hand would move from Shelf’s head to my thigh and I would never tic again.” (215). Even when it’s nothing crazy happening, Lionel could picture all his tourettic problems disappearing.  Now on the other hand when he gets nervous his syndrome gets ridiculously bad. In the scene with the garbage cop, Lionel ticked and the garbage cop didn’t believe that his tic was true, he thought it was just a routine. In this scene alone Lionel tics about five times but the most remarkable one has to be “It’s not a root-ocelot” (123). This shows us that he has no control over it. JEFF’S NOTE: GOOD OBSERVATIONS, BUT AGAIN, YOUR POINT IS UNCLEAR IN THIS PARAGRAPH.

Lionel understands that Tourette’s is a part of him but he also doesn’t want to accept it. “Tourette’s was my other name, and like my name, my brain could never leave the words unmolested… Tourette is the shitman.” (110). Although he himself knows that Tourette’s will always be a part of him, he uses his sense of humour to try and forget about the fact that he has them and that they will never go away. There’s also a scene where Lionel is being very compulsive. Where he can’t fight the urge to call Kimmery, where his Tourette’s take over. “Dial and redial were sitting on a fence… Kimmery? Kimmery? Kimmery? Are you there? Kimmery?” (260) Because in the end, it doesn’t make a big difference if you’re not strong enough to fight the urge of  screaming “Eat me DICKWEED” or if you can’t find the strength to not call someone, sometimes the compulsiveness takes over, even if you don’t want it to. Ed, this isn’t the biggest factor that you should focus on about Lionel but it still had an effect on the reader, at least it did to me.

All this to say, Lionel Essrog is such an amazing character when you think of it. Trying to solve the case of his boss Frank and sticking with it throughout the novel. You can even have an extra scene where you can see that Lionel is finally satisfied for cracking the case and you can put emphasis on the scene was Lionel wasn’t satisfied sexually with Kimmery, at least that’s the way I interpreted it. Lionel is a charismatic, warm hearted person that I want to see on the big screen. I also heard that you wanted to star in it. Listen Ed, we all know what you can do after watching The Incredible Hulk and I’m sure that you would take on this role just as well, no matter which character you choose to play. If you don’t want to be Lionel, I feel that Miles Teller would be a great fit for Lionel. Lately he’s been doing great work and he also recently did a movie where he was a handicapped boxer, I know it’s not a tourettic detective but if you can ace that character you can probably ace anything. Anyways Ed, I was just curious about the movie, trying to help you out a bit, hope to hear from you soon!

Best regards,

Giuseppe Gallo

Lethem, Jonathon. Motherless Brooklyn.


One thought on “Ed Norton or Lionel Essrog?

  1. I put a few notes in ALL CAPS in your draft.

    This draft starts of well, and you have some interesting evidence to work with. I think discussing Lionel’s Tourette’s can be an interesting topic.

    But, you’re not quite doing what you’re supposed to be doing in this draft. This draft shows little actual engagement with the novel. It’s not enough to simply pick apart a few examples of Lionel’s Tourette’s. You have to make a substantial statement about Lionel’s Tourette’s: how it affects him or shapes his identity or influences his journey. In short, you have to say something about his Tourette’s. For now, you’re just saying he has Tourette’s, and making some obvious observations about his Tourette’s. Yes, he tics less when he eats or has sex. So what? Why does that matter? Yes, he compulsively calls Kimmery. So what? Why are you bringing this up?

    I would say this is the strongest part of your draft:

    “As it was I was undersold goods, a twitcher and nose-picker retriever from the library instead of the schoolyard, probably a retard of some type, certainly a regrettable, inferior offering” (38). Lionel views himself as less of a person than all the other boys, Lionel doesn’t think that he would get chosen over the other orphans, until Frank Minna comes in and chooses him and three other children.

    Here you’re looking at the quote and discussing what’s going on beneath the surface. You’re talking about Lionel’s feelings and his vulnerabilities. This is closer to the idea.

    Please come and see me if you’d like help getting on track for the final draft.


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