Motherless Brooklyn The Movie

In a hardboiled novel, let’s not forget that the most important aspect is in fact the character and not the story itself. I among with many others, can say that movies never end up turning out as good as the books. This novel gives us an even bigger challenge because it mainly focuses on the main character and that’s what should be the focus for the movie as well. Although it can be hard to maintain that idea, I believe that a few key scenes featuring the main character are what the movie should be all about. Putting emphasis on the character’s reactions and body language will be really important as well as the placement of every scene to make it look like it is taking place in the late 1900s.

A scene that I think is important to emphasize in the movie is on pages 36-39 in the book. This part is important because it’s sort of an introduction of the main characters and where they came from wrapped up in 4 pages. We’ve got the setting of the home where the orphans, Danny Tony Lionel and Gilbert stayed at when Frank came to their rescue. Downtown Brooklyn, off-ramp to the Brooklyn bridge, burton trade school for aeromechanics, post office. One phrase that moved was “Until rescued by Frank Minna I lived, as I said, in the library.” (37) It says a lot about Lionel’s character; shy, outcast, alone, big imagination, loves books. Also it’s the time where signs of Tourrette’s started for Lionel and he didn’t really know what they were or how to handle them. Considering the time, the book is set I think it’s important to mention the line “We four were selected that day because we were four of the five white boys at st-Vincent” and the quote “Minna had asked for white boys to suit his clients’ presumed prejudice-and his own certain ones.” (38)

 Pages 127-129. It’s the day that Minna died, and Lionel is in mourning. He’s in his room at L&L and is playing sad music, eating and crying.The reason why I picked this scene is because I think it’s a powerful moment in the novel. The novel is supposed to be filled with suspense and Lionel should be the “hardboiled” character that’s strong and tough and never cracks. In this scene his emotional side breaks free and we can really tell how much Frank Minna actually meant to him and what impact him being gone has on Lionel. The scene includes a couple of Tourretic compulsions that I think are one of the main points of the novel. Over the surface Lionel is strong, he doesn’t show his true feelings to any of the Minna Men and acts like it will all be okay. Little do they know that Lionel is heartbroken and devastated that his father figure has passed and he doesn’t know why or how but blames it on himself. This scene also includes a flashback of Frank and Lionel in the car listening to music that Frank hates but Lionel discovers that he actually likes. Flashback= reminiscing about moments with Frank. Religious comparison; the alcohol and the sandwich (he refers to it as “the body and the blood”) and then quickly replaces it by “the turkey and the booze”(128)  because he realizes he is not one bit religious but still toasts the meal to Minna. Comparing Prince’s music to sexual pleasure and food. The tone is very melancholic and heavy. metaphors; “Prince’s music is my brain’s balm” (128)

Pages 195-205 of the novel that I think should be emphasized during the movie is the scene where Lionel attends his first Zen class. This is part is important because it’s where his Tourrette’s gets him in a lot of trouble, but also leads him to discover an important bit of information to his investigation of Frank Minna’s murder. Apart from the fact that during his meditation Lionel hears Frank Minna’s voice, he also notices the guys who tried to kidnap him earlier in the morning. He figures there just Zen students trying to have some fun but then he notices what he calls the “Pierogi Monster” (199), the guy who was with Minna when he died and the guy who Lionel believes executed Frank’s murder. This room is filled with greater tension when Lionel figures out that Roshi is actually Gerard Minna. He says “Roshi look like Minna. Your brother misses you, Irving. Irving equals Lama, Roshi equals Gerard. Roshi was Gerard Minna Gerard was the voice on the wire.” (200) Of couse a piece of information like this would send Lionel on a Tourretic blast and that is what happened. Obviously noise isn’t accepted in a zen centre, it is a place of peace and meditation. The giant took care of Lionel with an authoritative nod from Gerard who later claims to have no recollection of who the “giant” is. In this scene there may be a lot of characters but the main focus is on three in particular; Gerard, Lionel and Frank. This trio is important because it’s two against one, and although we think that Lionel is no match for the other two, he ends up winning.

Next we should emphasize a scene with Lionel and Kimmery. This will be important to show the connection between Lionel and a woman, something he isn’t used to. It will show how he evolves as not only a man but a character that we know who used to be shy, and reserved and “a freak.”  From pages 216-122 is the scene where Kimmery and Lionel are in her apartment, talking about the Zendo and Roshi. Out of frustration, Lionel is ticking a lot and Kimmery starts asking questions like “How does it feel when you do that?” and “What do the words mean?” (217). This is important because she’s one of the only people that has interest in knowing why Lionel has these tics and how they happen despite the fact that she says. In the movie, I think it’s important to emphasize the connection they have, even though in the end she ends up with her ex-boyfriend and Lionel is disappointed. As the scene continues things start getting steamy and Lionel is getting excited and Kimmery notices. While Kimmery and Lionel were kissing and touching Lionel tells the readers that “Bailey, he left town” (222). This is a way of Lionel telling us that Kimmery relieved his tics and that he was preoccupied only by her. It’s important to emphasize that because since there is no real cure to Tourrette’s at least we know that something helps him stop it even for a little while. Kimmery seems to find it strange that Lionel is no longer ticking and says “I like it when you talk. When you make sounds.” (222). With Kimmery’s command Lionel tics and it’s almost like an explosion of pleasure from what Kimmery is making him feel.

Another scene that I think would be important is the one with Lionel vs. the giant that is found on pages 279-285). This part not only adds action to the movie but it also proves my earlier point of Lionel being smarter than the giant, despite what others may think of him and his Tourrette’s. After killing Tony and Danny, the giant notices that Lionel has followed him out and obviously tries to kill him too. During a very heated car chase which involved a lot of crashing, Lionel manages to hurt the giant pretty badly and escaping with only a little bit of whiplash. His Tourrete’s also kicks in and he says “But I felt the wild call of symmetry: His car ought ot be crumpled on both sides. I needed to maul both of the Contour’s shoulders.” (283) What shocks me is the fact that he calls the police and warns them of the giant’s state instead of just leaving him there. This is an important thing to show in the movie because it reflects on how much Lionel has changed because of Minna’s murder. I also think it’s important to include his conversation with Matricardi and Rockaforte, who were in a twisted way, the reason why this whole mess happened.

In conclusion, transforming this novel into a movie will be a great challenge but by making sure that we have included these few key scenes it will be a great film adaptation.

Works Cited

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

Konstantina Vanikiotis


One thought on “Motherless Brooklyn The Movie

  1. This is a good start. I think the scenes you’ve chosen are good choices (though the first one isn’t really a scene). You have some very good ideas in here. You are clearly thinking about how each of these scenes fits into greater patterns in the novel. You are engaging with the novel in a significant way, and that’s one of the main goals of this project.

    One important thing for your next draft: you want to have a main idea that runs throughout. So, even though you’re looking at a few different scenes, you want to make one statement. You can talk about how these scenes give a sense of Lionel’s journey (and define how you understand Lionel’s journey), or talk about some common thread between all these scenes (how they each give us a sense of Lionel’s inner conflict, etc.). If you can find that thread, you’ll be really onto something.

    I’d also like to see you include some more evidence from these scenes. For now, you’re discussing one or two citations from these scenes. But, try to consider the whole context of the scene: what’s going on, what does Lionel want, what is at stake, etc. Some more evidence and citations would help. You could even look at fewer scenes, but go more in depth for each one. Could be interesting.

    Finally, I just wanted to highlight one sentence: “What shocks me is the fact that he calls the police and warns them of the giant’s state instead of just leaving him there. This is an important thing to show in the movie because it reflects on how much Lionel has changed because of Minna’s murder.” Interesting. But, what do you mean by this? I’m interested, but I don’t get it exactly.

    Good work so far.


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