Dear Mr. Edward Norton,
I have recently read an article saying that you were very much interested in adapting Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn, where a man attempting to pursue his professional mentor’s murderer slowly finds himself in the process, into a film. I am also aware that you have been silent regarding this matter in the past two years. I am writing this letter to let you know that I am with you in adapting this wonderful novel into a film and that you should delay no more. I have chosen three key scenes from the story that will point to the development of the protagonist’s character, which I think is extremely important to include in order that the adaptation becomes a success.
The first key scene that I think should definitely be incorporated in the movie is when Coney and Lionel lose the K-car where Frank Minna, a father figure to them, is in because they do not have an E-Z pass:
“As he edged to the right the K-car suddenly cut out of the flow, moving to the far left.
We both stared for a moment.
‘Whuzzat? said Coney.
‘E-Z Pass,’ I said. ‘They’ve got an E-Z Pass.’
The K-car slid into the empty E-Z Pass lane, and right through the booth” (18).
In this particular scene, it seems to me that our main figure is both stressed and worried at once. We know this because as Coney kept driving in hopes of catching the K-car, Lionel kept yelling at Coney demanding him to “Go over to the left” and “Go through” (18). He even “started to pry at the wheel in Coney’s hands, to try to push [them] to the left” (18). When Lionel deems that his partner in pursuing Minna is not doing a good job at doing so, he tries to take charge, which is a result of being worried. In the previous page, he explains that “stress” (17) is something that quiets his tics. We know then that he is stressed or is under pressure because he does not tic much as he converses with Coney in his scene. Incorporating this scene in the film is critical since it is what will encourage Lionel to go out and avenge for his professional mentor, resulting to meeting new people such as satire cops, atrocious brutes, deceivers, and corrupt tycoons, which then will contribute to his character growth—becoming more responsible and knowing what he wants.
The second key scene which find important to be included in the movie is the morning after Frank Minna’s death where Lionel reminisces about his father figure in his apartment:
“I dressed my best suit, donned Minna’s watch instead of my own, and clipped his beeper to my hip. […] Perhaps I’d been expecting Minna’s absence would snuff the world, or at least Brooklyn, out of existence. That a sympathetic dimming would occur. Instead I’d woken into the realization that I was Minna’s successor and avenger, that the city shone with clues” (132).
On the first day where there’s no more Frank Minna in Lionel’s life, he tried to at least make it seem like Minna is still there by wearing Minna’s watch instead of his own (132). I take this as a representation of Essrog’s taking on Minna’s role somehow. Just the day before, on the day of Frank’s death, we also see that as Lionel interacts with other people, he unconsciously does so in a way his father figure would. He somehow took Minna’s indifference in the way he talks. We see this when the detective asks him where they are heading to and he plainly answers, “Home” (109) and then talk about a completely different subject: “I’m starving. Do you want to get a sandwich with me?” (109). Besides that, this passage displays that it finally sank in Lionel’s mind that Minna is dead and it became clear to him that he wants to pursue his role model’s murderer. Moreover, he feels hopeful as he believes that “the city shone with clues” (132).
The third key scene that I deem critical for the adaptation’s success is when Lionel came to see Gerard Minna, Frank Minna’s brother, in hopes of having Gerard to help him find the person responsible for his father figure’s death. When Lionel got into the Zendo using “one of the keys [that he has stolen]” (228), he finds Gerard and quickly attempts to get his attention and by telling a joke as an introduction, then informs Gerard what he knows:
“‘I know about the building,’ I said working to catch my breath. ‘And the Fujisaki Corporation.’ Unfuckafish whispered under my palate.
‘Ah, then you know much.’
‘Yeah, I know a thing. And I’ve met your killing machine. But you saw that, when he dragged me out, downstairs. The kumquat-eater.’
I was desperate to see him flinch, to impress him with the edge I had, the things I learned, but Gerard wasn’t ruffled” (230-231).
It seems like Essrog is trying to impress Frank’s brother. However, Gerard is not very impressed. He talks down on Lionel as if he is just a kid. Right off the bat, he tells Lionel that he is “speaking without thinking” and that he recalls Lionel’s “difficulties in that area” (229) talking about the fact that the protagonist is suffering from Tourette’s syndrome. In other words, Lionel somehow feels like he might have an ally in the person of Gerard while Gerard seems to think of his brother’s adopted as though he is an innocent and careless child trying to act like he knows much. Although it is obvious that Lionel did not quite succeed as he ended up walking out of Gerard’s hideout confused about who really killed his father figure, the fact that he still went to see Frank’s brother is a courageous act. After his interaction with Gerard, we know that Lionel walked out with a clearer mindset when he thinks, “I needed to step outside the candle glow of Gerard’s persuasiveness to sort out the false and the real, the Zen and the chaff in our long discussion” (236). We see again the growth in Lionel’s character—knowing who to approach for a concern of his and deciding how to do so.
To conclude, I am convinced that Motherless Brooklyn should be adapted into a film because of crucial scenes that all play a huge part in Lionel Essrog’s character development. These scenes are: Lionel and his mate, Coney’s, failure to follow through Minna’s instructions in the beginning of the story resulting to Minna’s death, which will encourage Lionel to become more responsible; the morning following Minna’s death where Lionel finally decides to avenge his professional mentor, wherein we see that he somehow becomes like Minna in some ways; and Lionel coming to Gerard Minna hoping to find out who really killed his role model, resulting in confusion but encouragement that he now knows what to watch out for as he pursues Minna’s killer. I am in the position that the progression of Lionel’s character shown in these major scenes is very impressive. Instead of writing a going-up, optimistic ending, Lethem displays a combination of both evolution and stagnation in Lionel’s character. I believe that the uniqueness in Lethem’s choice of actions are an asset that will most likely attract viewers.
Lethem, Jonathan. Motherless Brooklyn. Vintage Books, 1999.