Dear Mr. Edward Norton,
I have recently read an article saying that you were very much interested in adapting Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn into a film. I am also aware that you have been silent regarding this matter in the past two years. I am writing this letter to let you know that I am with you in adapting this wonderful novel into a film. I have chosen four key scenes from the story that will point to the development of the protagonist’s character, which I think is extremely important to include in order that the adaptation becomes a success. The first is Lionel and Coney losing track of the car they were tailing. The second being Frank Minna’s death. The third is that it is Danny who takes Frank’s position instead of Lionel. And lastly, that Lionel and Kimmery do not end up together in the end. As you most likely might have already observed, these scenes are disappointments, which is the main reason why I think they are important, because they are what make this novel a very impressive and unique one.
The first frustrating key scene that I think should definitely be incorporated in the movie is when Coney and Lionel lose the K-car where Frank Minna, a father figure to them, is in because they do not have an E-Z pass.
“As he edged to the right the K-car suddenly cut out of the flow, moving to the far left. We both stared for a moment. ‘Whuzzat? said Coney. ‘E-Z Pass,’ I said. ‘They’ve got an E-Z Pass.’ The K-car slid into the empty E-Z Pass lane, and right through the booth” (18).
Coney tells Lionel then, “We don’t got an E-Z Pass” (18) when Lionel pressures Coney into going through to catch the car. This part personally grabbed my attention because it led me to be probing of what is going to happen as a result of them losing the car that they are pursuing. This scene is so unsatisfactory that it makes the reader want to keep on reading to see and hope that somehow, they do catch the K-car and find out why Minna has ordered them to do this stakeout and chasing since he does not reveal to them why. He merely gives two of his men instructions such as “Get inside, just get inside” (7) and “Wait there” (7). When Coney asks what to do in case something unplanned happens, Minna simply replies, “Worry about it when it happens” (7). This scene then, which is the hook, is crucial so that the future viewers are kept to watch until the end of the movie.
The second unfortunate key scene that I find essential to the success of this film is Frank Minna’s death because this itself is what sets off an unavoidable evolution in the character of Lionel Essrog.
“‘Ahem. We were unable to revive misdemeanor.’ ‘Wait a minute,’ said Coney. ‘You’re saying unable to revive?’ ‘Yes, that’s right. Loss of blood was the cause. I am sorry'” (33).
Because Frank is such an important person in Lionel’s life, he consequently feels compelled to find out whoever is responsible for his father figure’s death and to take vengeance for him. Lionel says he’d “woken into the realization that [he] was Minna’s successor and avenger […]” (132). Not only is this realization crucial to our main figure’s growth, it is also important so he can prove his capability when he finally finds out who Frank’s murderer is. Moreover, this epiphany forces him to meet new people such as satire cops, atrocious brutes, deceivers, and corrupt tycoons. His encounters with them definitely have great influences in the protagonist’s growth.
The third disenchanting key scene is the fact that it is Danny who replaces Frank Minna and not Lionel himself. This is particularly dissatisfying for Lionel as it is his greatest dream to be Frank.
“Leadership of L&L had fallen to [Danny] like an easy rebound, one he didn’t even have to jump for, while the other players boxed and elbowed and sweated on the wrong part of the floor” (305).
Because Minna is the only role model to Lionel, it is obvious that he wants to be just like Minna. At the beginning of the novel, we see cues that Lionel really looks up to and depends on Minna such as “I rolled down the window, then reached out compulsively and touched his left shoulder, a regular gesture he’d not bothered to acknowledge for […] fifteen years” (6). The tapping on Minna’s shoulder shows Lionel’s dependence on him. And when Lionel heard from the doctor that he was unable to revive Minna, Lionel “tugged his collar straight,” (34) showing anger and disappointment for the physician’s failure to keep his father figure alive. Moreover, given that it was Lionel who figured out who Minna’s murderer is, it just seems most sensible that our main figure himself takes Minna’s position.
The fourth and last saddening key scene which I consider to be equally important to be included in the movie is the fact that Lionel does not end up with Kimmery, someone whom he connects very well with. He refers to her as “different from anyone [he’s] ever met” (297).
“‘I have to tell you something, Lionel.” [Kimmery] delivered it with that same hectic half smile […] ‘I’m moving back with Stephen,’ she said. ‘So that thing that happened with us, it was just, you know-a thing‘” (309).
Kimmery’s decision to leave Lionel behind for someone else is something that definitely stupefied him. He just stood there, “opened [his] mouth and nothing came out” (309). He was not expecting this, thus he did not know how to respond. It took his tourretic self to respond “Okay” (309). I believe that this is a significant event which contributes to the main character’s growth. This instance helps him realize that no one can ever love him more than he loves himself. Other than that, it encourages him to realize that he is the one person who will always be there for himself, even though this might sound weird. It is important that Lionel, or anyone, realizes that he does not need another person to complete him, because if he lets that happen, he will only feel lost when they leave.
To conclude, I am convinced that MotherlessBrooklyn should be adapted into a film because of crucial scenes that all play a huge part in Lionel Essrog’s character development. These scenes are Lionel and his mate, Coney’s, failure to follow through Minna’s instructions in the beginning of the story; Minna’s death; Danny, and not Lionel, being Minna’s replacement; and Lionel losing Kimmery forever. I am in the position that the progression of Lionel’s character shown in these major scenes is very impressive. Instead of writing a going-up, optimistic ending, Lethem displays a combination of both evolution and stagnation in Lionel’s character. I believe that the uniqueness in Lethem’s choice of actions are an asset that will most likely attract viewers.
Although disappointments in life are inevitable and might be necessary for growth and development, it is important that we don’t dwell on it, which is one of the themes of this novel in the end of its story.
Lethem, Jonathan. Motherless Brooklyn. Vintage Books, 1999.