Choosing Lionel Essrog as main character for the film adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn is simply the best option one has because everything he does in the novel is movie worthy. There are thousands of detective movies that one can say are all similar, but with this book as its inspiration, something very great and different can be the product. Lionel’s character is in constant development and is never bland which makes him a perfect choice for a movie. One that always keeps the viewer consumed by his ticcish ways and imaginative mind. For the actual scenes, it will come naturally because for whatever the plot follows it will be accented by the ways of Lionel himself. Making a screenplay of this novel is an easier job than what it seems, having so many different things to choose from, but Lionel himself is such a heavy character making the main role a simple task. The focus for the adaptation should be on the contrast between Lionel’s weighted thoughts, that make for intense reflection and how he expresses his voice in the mundane dialogue, and aggressive vocal tics.
The focal point will simply be how he thinks compared to how he speaks with the aid of contrast. His Tourette’s syndrome and compulsive eye on life makes him meticulous, analytical and most of all imaginative. What is particularly interesting about his imaginative mind is the contrast between situations in the book that might be violent and rugged, but in his mind, are beautiful: “the words rush out of the cornucopia of my brain to course over the surface of the world, tickling reality like fingers on piano keys. Caressing, nudging. They’re an invisible army on a peacekeeping mission, a peaceable horde” (1). This quotation is an in-depth description of what Lionel perceives his aggressive verbal outbursts to be, something impossible to express through speech, but a breeze in thought. A person with a normal bland mind clearly knows that the words “Eat me” (2) blowing out of someone’s mouth isn’t the most beautiful thing, but Lionel has his own imaginative twist on it. Throughout the novel the contrast between his tics and the mental imagery is very apparent which solidifies his tantalizing role for this movie.
Lionel’s mental explorations are deep rooted and make one travel into a space of euphoria in comparison to the thoughtless dialogue between him and Tony. Lionel weakened by the late hour and lack of sleep conjures up a thought about his current feelings while spying on Tony for anything peculiar: “Insomnia is a variant of Tourette’s–the waking brain races, sampling the world after the world has turned away, touching it everywhere, refusing to settle, to join the collective nod. The insomniac brain is a sort of conspiracy theorist as well, believing too much in its own paranoiac importance—as though if it were to blink, then doze, the world might be overrun by some encroaching calamity, which its obsessive musings are somehow fending off” (246). The quote grazes over all the parts of Lionel’s Tourette’s that are somewhat unexplainable, his dire need for letting out a scream of satisfaction to his compulsive mind that feels as though it is under constant observation and paranoia. Lionel explains Tourette’s to be a concentration of mental efficiencies or deficiencies with the slight undertones of anxiety, a refusal to settle and fear of being seeped into the collective lull of the world. Lionel thoroughly examines what Insomnia is like, an overwhelming feeling of unwilling wakefulness and, if one were to peacefully doze off, there would be unprecedented consequence. Eventually, one wakes up and feels the unavoidable ache of the obsessive thought settling at the crux of the mind. The beauty and dense imagery of this mental exploration is then razed to ground by the final conversation between Lionel and Tony:
“It’s me” I said. “Deskjob.”
“You fucking little freak,” said Tony. “I’ll kill you”
“Oh, I’d of straightened it out,” Tony said. “I wish I had put a coupla holes in you. Leaving me with that fucking cop” (248).
This vulgar, choppy and empty conversation is such a massive contrast to Lionel’s mental tangents filled with mind tickling thoughts and sentences to seduce all senses. The conversation is lacking so much colour that it actually helps to amplify the effect th
at the Insomnia exploration has on the reader. All-in-all, Lionel’s deep-seate
d thought and the mindless, vulgar and short-lived dialogue are a contrast like night and day, very apparent.
The endless imagery that Lionel describes and the way they interlock with his current emotions are fascinating because they work with the contrast of the rest of the novel that focus on vulgarity and violence. An example of this is when Lionel is at the tip of the ocean in Maine: “The sky out past the island was grey and inspiring, but there was a nice line of light where it met the water, an edge I could with my eyes like a seam of stitching between my fingers. The birds harassed the foam below, looking for urchin, perhaps, or discarded hot-dog ends among the rocks” (292). Lionel is at striking point in the novel when all the ends meet and he finally starts to push against the world, display confidence and come to terms about his reality, like the slither of sunlight in a grey and gloomy sky that reflects off the ocean waters. Lionel’s ability to link certain images to his actual feelings heavily contrast to how he expresses those images vocally. Everyone loves good cinematography, displaying picture perfect imagery along with a character that has an immense amount of depth.
To continue playing with the idea of Lionel being able to connect his thoughts and images, one finds the staple sequence in the novel when he is taking the persona of a vintage detective with some Tourretic flare: “moving with my hands in my jacket pockets clutching might-be-guns-for-all-they-know, collar up against the cold like Minna, unshaven like Minna now, too. That’s who I was supposed to be, that black outline of a man in a coat, ready suspicious eyes above his collar, shoulders hunched, moving toward conflict” (226). This is a very familiar image in the eyes of the reader, a classic detective picture, which would translate to an effective scene within the movie that also supports the aspects of descriptive language, but as well the characteristics of Lionel’s character. In the making of the movie, this would be a great place to start it off displaying specific characteristics about Lionel when the viewer would soon find out that there is a lot more than what is displayed in this picture still of course, maintaining the contrasting flow.
After having given the reader what he should’ve looked like Lionel then explains how he perceives himself right around when he begins his intense quest to avenge his father-figure Frank Minna, post insignificant intercourse with Kimmery: ” that same outline of a man, but crayoned by the hand of a mad or carefree or retarded child, wild slashes of idiot color, a blizzard of marks violating the boundaries that made man distinct from street, from world” (227). The way Lionel can do this eye-opening self-reflection
within a book saturated with barbarity and coarseness is a screenplay waiting to be made, the plot will slowly form around this complex character and will certainly build a strong bridge with the viewer of the film leaving them with a surge of emotions and heavy feelings of catharsis. With the help of the evident thought to vocalization contrast a beautiful screen play will be developed.
Lethem, Jonathan. Motherless Brooklyn. Vintage Books, 1999.
Lucas Tremblay-Moll, 1531988