Lionel Essrog or Ed Norton?


Hey Ed, how are you? I was just reading online that you had an idea to direct Lethem’s novel Motherless Brooklyn, and I think it’s great. I also noticed 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 there is one thing, I saw that the article was dated 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.

With Lionel being the main character of the novel, it is a given that you should put focus on him, especially on his Tourette’s. Lionel and his Tourette’s go hand and hand. Lionel views himself as a: “carnival barker, an auctioneer, a downtown performance artist, a speaker in tongues, a senator drunk on filibuster” (1) because of his Tourette’s. Lionel describes to the reader what his Tourette’s feel like: “My mouth won’t quit, though mostly I whisper or subvocalize like I’m reading aloud, my Adam’s apple bobbing, jaw muscle beating like a miniature heart under my cheek, the noise suppressed, the words escaping silently” (1), nothing pleasant and nothing he can control. Lionel knows that he has to accept it, but he doesn’t want to, he lets us know by think, “Tourette’s was my other name, and like my name, my brain could never leave the words unmolested… Tourette is the shitman.” (110). When looking at his Tourette’s, one specific part in the novel is Lethem’s second chapter where the reader sees how Lionel deals with the development of his syndrome. Lionel coms to the realization that he and the other orphans are not the same. Essrog notices that the reason he and the other children in the orphanage are different is because of his syndrome “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). All Lionel wants is feel like the other kids. Lionel views himself as less of a person compared to all the other boys. In Lionel’s head he thinks, why someone would choose a young boy with Tourette’s when they can choose anyone else in this orphanage without a syndrome. That is until Frank Minna comes in and chooses him and three other children.

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. The reader can observe that when Lionel 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). He doesn’t want to tick aggressively but in certain circumstances he has to. Now on the other hand we see that Lionel doesn’t tic as much when he has food around him and when he has a sexual arousal. 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). 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). He could finally picture himself happy. Lionel could picture all his tourettic problems suddenly disappearing. But these two factors somewhat make him feel better, what really makes Lionel Feel better is when he finally lets go of Minna.

Frank Minna, the catalyst of the novel, is who I like to call the hope giver. Lionel was self-loathing even more than before he was “rescued by Frank Minna I lived.” (37). Frank was the man who helped Lionel figure out who he really is, “I’d begun discovering myself upon Minna’s jerking me out of the library and into the world … My symptoms loved him.” (85), he uses his symptoms to describe his love for him. But the hope that Frank gives him isn’t what makes Lionel break free. The whole novel is Lionel trying to figure out who killed his boss Frank but the only way that Lionel actually feels better was when he let go of Frank. Lionel eventually lets go of Minna at the end of the novel, on both pages 302-3 but one passage stands out the most, “I suppose losing frank, hard as it was, was easier for those of us who actually had him, actually felt his love” (303), this to me his where he completely lets go.

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.


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