Lionel Essrog: what’s the most interesting or compelling aspect of his character? Who would you choose to play him, and why?
If a movie were to be made from Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn one would have to focus on Lionel as a character is very complex, specifically on how he thinks compared to how he speaks. This is due to his Tourette’s syndrome and compulsive eye on life which makes him to be 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. 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.
Choosing Lionel as a character for this film adaptation is very effective because basically, 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 can come out of it. 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.
Lionel’s mental explanations can be a movie themselves: “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 language and imagery in this description is so vivid that one feels as though they are insomniacs and they can feel the anxiety and pressure rising as the paragraph progresses. Additionally, the use of language makes for the reader to empathize with what he is going through regardless if he has Tourette’s syndrome. Lionel although so different, is particularly similar to all of us readers because he explains things that we are not able to fully explain like insomnia or anxiety with the help of his Tourettic analytical mind. To oppose, the beauty of the above quotation the next sequence of the novel is the final conversation between Tony and Lionel which is rather coarse and vulgar: “’Its me’ I said. ‘You fucking little freak,’ said Tony. ‘I’ll kill you’” (248). Lionel will daze off into subconscious tangents which are often awaken by crude language and violence which can be important because you can see that Lionel isn’t a very violent character, but is forced to be due to his role in the story as a detective.
The endless imagery that Lionel describes and the way they interlock with his current emotions are fascinating and make for a great stepping stone for the movie setting. 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 actually feelings would fit perfectly within a movie. The diversity is simply through the roof when it comes to the lovely Lionel Essrog. 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 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. The viewer will be able to go through his development as a character with this scene as a starting point for the film.
Lionel then explains how he perceives himself which is when the viewer would be presented with the real Lionel, this is when the adventure between viewer and main character would commence: ” 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 is able to do this self-reflection and still have a massive development of the self to do 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 catharsis.
Lethem, Jonathan. Motherless Brooklyn. Vintage Books, 1999.
Lucas Tremblay-Moll, 1531988