Lionel’s Life Changing Moments

Dear Mr. Edward Norton,

I have heard that you want to turn the novel Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem into a movie and I believe this is a wonderful idea! I understand that you need one major point to connect and tie the movie together. I’d like for you to consider the main point to be Lionel’s changes throughout the novel. In order to tie the movie together, you should focus on a few certain scenes to create an exceptional film adaptation. There are several scenes in this book with such an immense amount of emotion, symbolization and more. By focusing on these specific scenes, we can definitely tie the film together. We can explain the story in a way for the viewers to feel emotional attachment with both the characters and scenes. We can also demonstrate how Lionel Essrog, the main character, slowly changes throughout the development of this story.

There are three major scenes that I believe are essential to the success of this film.

Change is evident throughout this novel. There are specific scenes that are crucial not only for the development of Lionel’s character, but also for the story development as well. The first scene which I believe we should emphasize on, is when Lionel is leaving Julia’s apartment and a detective stops them by trying to ask questions. This scene shows Lionel developing a “Frank Minna” aspect to his character. Julia ignores the cop’s questions as she gets into a car and leaves town. Lionel is left with the detective and is asked many questions about Frank Minna and his murder. As the detective is questioning Lionel, he feels indifferent to the situation and we can see this clearly: “… I’d like to go for a sandwich first. I’m starving. You want to get a sandwich with me?” (109). In doing so, we can see Lionel slowly shedding his childish side and turning into the man he had always wanted to be; his true role model, Frank Minna. We can also see several examples of where Lionel lies to the cop. For example, one time when he was asked where Julia was going and he responded with, “She wanted to go shopping” (112). Another example is when he was asked if he had ever heard of Matricardi and Rockaforte and he responded, “Never heard of them” (115).  He also jokes with the cop when he got tired of getting no answers from Lionel and threw him up against the wall, showing his calmness during this serious confrontation: “This was unexpected. You’re like good cop bad cop rolled into one.” (114). In comparison to this scene, Lionel later meets up with Loomis, the garbage cop, and just like he does with the garbage cop, Lionel treats Loomis with a “Minna” style attitude. For example, after Loomis told Lionel a joke Lionel just responded with, “Eat me Ocelot!” (123). Also, when Lionel arrives back at L&L he tells Loomis “you can walk from here” (124). Throughout the conversation, Lionel does not play along in joking with Loomis and does not display much affection. Lionel acts more mature than prior to Frank Minna’s death. This is evident in the detective scene. By focusing on this scene, we can have the actors transfer their emotions to the audience and have them understand that this scene is extremely important in the development of the story because it is when Lionel starts to understand he must adopt the “mindset” of Frank Minna to solve the murder of Frank Minna. It is where we finally see Lionel become who he truly wanted to be, Frank Minna. “I’ll catch the killer… that’s what I’ll give you.” (115). Since he was young, Lionel, along with the other Minna men, looked up to Frank as sort of a father figure and Lionel always wanted to be like him. This scene demonstrates the first big change in Lionel’s character and foreshadows more changes to come.

The second scene I believe we should focus on is when Lionel is with Kimmery in her apartment; where we can see Lionel’s character changing to be more confident. During this scene, the affection and excitement is coursing from the book to the readers. Kimmery does not fully understand Lionel’s condition but she nonetheless accepts him and wants to discover this real side of him. For once, someone cares about Lionel and is curious to ask about his Tourette syndrome. We see this while they are having intercourse, Kimmery says, ‘‘it’s okay to talk… I like when you talk. When you make sounds.’’ (222). This is the first time Lionel hears someone actually ask him to tic and who is genuinely intrigued by him. In addition, throughout the time in the apartment Lionel was repeating much of what Kimmery was doing. I believe this could be a metaphor to declare that Lionel and Kimmery have a strong connection and that Kimmery’s feelings are closely related to those of Lionel’s. Just as Lionel, Kimmery feels ‘‘alienated’’ (213) from society. Lionel even realizes that Kimmery was,

“rootless, alienated in this space. The Oreo Man’s house was her home, or possibly the Zendo, just as L&L was mine, just as Shelf’s was elsewhere, too. None of us could go to those places, so we huddled here together avoiding the big room and the forest of skyscrapers.’’ (213).

Lionel makes this realization and understands that he enjoys Kimmery’s presence because she treats him as an equal and more importantly, for once in his life, not a freak. Also by Lionel analyzing Kimmery’s situation and coming up with such a thorough conclusion, we can see that he understands Kimmery’s situation because he feels as if he is in the same one. This is why this scene is such an important one, Lionel dissects his own character for all of us to view and understand what he has been going through mentally his entire life. Lionel comes to a very important realization that even if he is a “freak”, there are others who accept him and feel just like him. He understands that he does not need to change or hide his tics and as a result he accepts himself for who he is and in realizing this becomes more confident with himself.

In addition, the third scene when Lionel is by the sea throwing objects into the water demonstrates Lionel’s character changing into a more independent man. This scene is extremely powerful and crucial not only to the ending but also to demonstrate the final considerable development of Lionel’s character. Lionel throws, Tony’s gun, Minna’s beeper, Julia’s gun, the doorman’s cellphone and one of his shoes. By throwing Tony’s gun and Minna’s beeper, he is emotionally separating from the two. In throwing Tony’s gun, Lionel demonstrates detachment with him. He understands Tony is gone and that he had done as much as he can to try to help but he was gone now and Lionel had finally accepted it. By throwing Minna’s beeper it shows how Lionel finally accepts that Minna, just like Tony, is gone. He finally understands that it wasn’t his fault that Minna died and that he did not disappoint him in his death and we could see this when he later on explains, “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” (311). Lionel feels he can finally move on with his life in peace and not feel guilty for Frank and Tony’s death. By throwing Julia’s gun he shows that he is done with the Minna women. He speaks with her prior to this and during this conversation he understands that Julia needs to be on her own for once in a long time. She had been “prisoner” of the Minna brothers and of the Brooklyn troubles and now they were finally over and she had to live her life that she’d been present physically but absent mentally for so long. By throwing the doorman’s cellphone it demonstrates how he accepts the end result of the case and that he can finally move on. He had done all he can to set things right, he had supposedly gotten the giant arrested, got vengeance on Gerard and cut off the link between L&L and Rockaforte and Matricardi. Finally, the last object Lionel throws is his shoe. Before doing this he thinks to himself that “Julia’s pain was no longer his concern” (303). “You choose your battles, Frank Minna used to say, thought the term was hardly original to him. You also distance yourself from cruelty, if you have any brains. I was developing a few” (303). Lionel then removed his shoe, gave it a kiss good-bye and throw it into the waves. By throwing his shoe, a piece of his clothing, it indicates that he is throwing away a part of himself. He accepts the outcome of this unique situation and is finally able to put the Frank Minna identity he had adopted during this investigation to rest along with Frank Minna; where it should be. We can also see that Lionel accepts Minna is gone when mentioning his dream near the end of the book. He jokes with Minna in the dream and was called, “King Tugboat” (309). This dream shows us that he has accepted who he’s finally become and that he believes Minna would accept him too. The last object might seem meaningless but in reality has the greatest meaning out of all the objects thrown. If this is not emphasized in the movie, viewers might not fully understand the ending of the story. The viewers will get a clearer understanding of how Lionel has accepted the outcome and has changed largely from the beginning of the story.

To sum everything up, Mr. Norton, the movie should focus on these three specific scenes because they contain such a large amount of details, emotions, metaphors and symbolisms that if not focused on, the viewers can get lost or confused in the development of the story. Hence, in my opinion, the viewer may not enjoy the movie as much. Without emphasizing the importance of this, viewers might not realize the true progression of Lionel’s character and so the ending might not be so clear. These scenes, if presented right, can show the viewers how much Lionel has changed from a childish detective to an independent and confident man. Many will believe he had not gotten what he wanted when in fact he truly did.

Steven Colalillo

Work Cited

Lethem, Jonathan. Motherless Brooklyn. New York: Vintage Contemporaries – Vintage, a Division of Random House, 2006. Print.


One thought on “Lionel’s Life Changing Moments

  1. This is a nice reading of these three scenes. As I said with your rough draft, you cite some interesting examples, and you provide a nice overview of Lionel’s progression. You hit upon some meaningful and symbolic moments to explore.

    Some notes for next time: Thought this is a good final draft, it hasn’t quite developed as much as it could have since the first draft. I’m not implying you haven’t worked on it, I’m just saying it could have been developed further. Two important ways you can do this:

    1) A main point. I don’t quite sense one main argument here.

    2) Try to repeat yourself less. You tend to say the same thing more than once, and often, more than twice.

    Keep this in mind for future writing assignments. If you can have more a directed focus, and be less repetitive, you could use your excellent analytical skills to say a bit more.

    Good work, overall.


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