Dear Edward Norton,
I hear you are trying to turn the novel Motherless Brooklyn into a screenplay but have fallen short of ideas, rest assure I’m here to help you get out of this slump and make an awesome movie. When turning a novel into a screenplay the most important factor you need to focus on is the major conflict and the main characters inner conflict. Conflict is the meat of your story, without a good conflict movies tend to be boring. The reason why you should focus on the major conflict and the main characters inner conflict is simply because Lionel is narrator of the book and he takes us through everything that is happening to him or throughout the book. This is a very important aspect to consider when making your movie because without this aspect your movie will not progress. The main conflict of the story is ultimately to find Frank Minna’s killer but what you should really focus on is how Lionel must find himself and when he does it should help him close the gap between himself and gain acceptance from the other characters.
Lionel feels a lot of pain because of how the other characters treat him in the book. Lionel’s Tourettic condition is the main reason why the other detectives in the group kind of look at Lionel as the outcast of the group. They kept Lionel around as amusement, For example when Lionel and Coney were driving Minna to the hospital, Minna asks Lionel to tell him a joke knowing that his Tourettes would spoil the punch line even before he finished the joke “Minna and I had been in a joke-telling contest since I was thirteen years old, primarily because he liked to see me try to get through without ticcing. It was rare that I could” (Lethem 25). Rest assure, even though the other detectives might not have showed it much they did somewhat cared for Lionel. Even though Lionel knew this he still felt unimportant to the group and that his Tourette’s will follow him no matter where he goes “Tourette’s is just one big lifetime of tag” (Lethem 6). Lionel feels labeled by his condition but it only gets worse when the other members of the group put him down. Lionel starts to believe and accept what the other group members say of him for example, we see them calling him a “Fucking freakball” (Letham 22). This is just one example of many similar terminologies they used to describe Lionel, which in the end he kind of accepts as facts but it still bothered by it. At this point in the story Lionel is seen as helpless and will always be the guy who hides in the shadows of the other Minna men, but things take a turn in Lionel’s life when Frank Minna is murdered.
Lionel starts to become more independent after Frank’s death. There is a change in Lionel’s character because he was always depended on the Minna men or Frank to be by his side but, with Frank dead and the Minna men scattered everywhere it leaves Lionel no choice to take charge. “I was Minna’s successor and avenger that the city shone with clues. It seemed possible I was a detective on a case” (Lethem 132). This is when Lionel comes to realization that he is the man that will avenge Frank’s death and this is the commencement of the major conflict in the story. This informed the reader that Lionel was ready to take on a bigger role and figure out who killed his boss. We see Lionel starting to act more and more like Frank Minna as he goes around interrogating people and following leads but also starts to take his persona “I dressed in my best suit, donned Minna’s watch instead of my own, and clipped his beeper to my hip”(Lethem 132). Not only is he acting like Frank Minna he is also trying to portray his image, which is rather interesting because at first, we never used to see Lionel so confident in himself. During Lionel’s first interrogation with Kimmery he starts to feel important for the first time and starts to embrace it “I felt a thrill at being taken so seriously. This making the rounds without Gilbert could get to be a habit. For once I was playing lead detective instead of comic-or Tourettic-relief” (Lethem 143). When Frank was alive, Lionel would be always kept out of the dirty work and mostly kept around for his Tourettic outburst which would make Frank and the other Minna men laugh. This is when Lionel starts to realize he has an opportunity to prove everyone wrong and show his true worth because no one was working the cases like he was. Lionel starts to doubt his evolution when he gets intimate with Kimmery “the distance between me and me was enormous” (Lethem 219). We as readers see Lionel progress as a character and see him come more and more into his true self, letting the distraction of his condition aside but he is still unsure about himself. What Lionel hasn’t realized yet is as he continues to narrate the story and continues to find Frank Minna’s killer he’s slowly but surely closing the gap between himself and will eventually come to realization on who he really is.
Gerard is Frank’s killer, Tony is dead and L&L is for the first time a legitimate business. At this point in the story we start to witness Lionel’s final stage in evolving has a character. When Lionel is having a standoff with Julia towards the end of the book we see Lionel throw five things into the ocean Tony and Julia’s gun, Minna’s beeper, a cellphone and his shoe. Every object he throws in the ocean has importance, Tony’s and Julia’s gun for signifies that the fight is over and everyone should return to their lives, Minna’s beeper and the cell phone signified that he doesn’t need help or have to answer to anybody anymore because he solved the case and Frank can now rest in peace, finally his right shoe signified what he was going through the whole novel and that is his Tourette syndrome, he realized himself that it was pointless but he had no choice to throw a fifth object into the ocean. As Lionel returns to L&L he starts to reflect on his journey and realizes how far he’s come. At first, we see Lionel as an insecure, out casted, goofy detective that was kept around as a sideshow for the entertainment of his fellow co-workers but has the story progresses we see Lionel reach his full potential. He took on a bigger role that no one would assume he could take, including himself and for once accomplished it with success. During his process he discovered what the true Lionel Essorg is capable of doing and realized that what he was looking for all along, acceptance from others, wasn’t important anymore because he didn’t care what people taught of him anymore. He now knew that Tourette’s or not, “freakball” or normal he was capable of discovering the big case on his own. Danny becoming the new leader of L&L “Leadership of L&L had fallen to him like an easy rebound, one he didn’t need to jump for” (Lethem 305), it didn’t even faze Lionel because he came to understand everyone who wanted to be Frank Minna turned out dead and Lionel wasn’t ready to take on that chance. Lionel didn’t only help find himself in this quest he took upon but, learned some pretty dark secrets about the people he truly cared for “the ghosts I felt sorriest for weren’t the dead ones. I’d imagined Frank and Tony were mine to protect, but I’d been wrong. I knew it now” (Lethem 311). Lionel’s goal throughout the whole book was to avenge Frank’s death but eventually realized that in a way he deserved what was coming to him, for that matter even Tony. They were both involved in crooked business and the result is always similar when you aren’t doing things the proper way. Even though Lionel would never admit it because they were sort of his family, deep down he knew that their deaths were deserved.
So, Mr. Edward Norton I have given you a pretty good analysis of how this movie should go down. Focus on Lionel’s inner conflict and how his evolution throughout the book helps solve the main conflict, find himself and realize how acceptance from other characters doesn’t mean anything as long as you are happy with yourself and believe what you do is right, acceptance is not needed from others. When you address these main points you will have completed the entire basis of making a blockbuster movie. I hope I have helped you get the ball rolling and best of luck.
Lethem, Jonathan. Motherless Brooklyn. New York: Vintage, 1999. Print.