“Self Awareness Doesn’t Stop You from Making Mistakes, It Allows You to Learn from Them” – Unknown

As a student taking a psychology course, focused on neurological disorders, Motherless Brooklyn is particularly captivating to me. It is obvious to me that Jonathan Lethem, did his proper research before beginning the writing process of his novel, to learn how to incorporate realistic character traits. To fully embody Lionel Essrog, whilst accurately depicting a character with Tourette’s syndrome. Lethem had to know precisely how somebody with this disorder would go about their daily lives, and how they face all the challenges that come their way. While studying neurological disorders, we’re constantly reminded to put ourselves in the shoes of our patients, and taught the importance of their own coping mechanisms, whatever works best for them. I encourage you to focus your script on the daily challenges Lionel faces as a person diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome, and how he overcomes them with his unique, comical absurdity, his own coping mechanism that works for him. “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,”(Wayne Gretzky)

“Context is everything,” (Lethem, 1). Jonathan Lethem could not have said it any better. The most compelling aspect of Lionel’s character, is the ability to be self-aware. He knows himself better than anybody, and also has the ability to acknowledge how he’s impacting the people around him, “my tics and obsessions kept the other Minna Men amused, but also wore them out, made them weirdly compliant and complicit,” (Lethem, 5). It’s difficult to address these kinds of moments in a movie, when Lionel’s feelings and thoughts are such an important part of the story, rather than how he acts around other characters. My suggestion would be to add scenes where Lionel’s talking into a camera, as a method of therapy, similar to a video diary. I think it would kill the mood of the story if Lionel were to be speaking to a psychologist throughout all the events he goes through because the psychologist would be there to advice him of all his options, whereas a video diary would give the audience insight as to what his thoughts are, and forces Lionel to work through his challenges on his own, exposing his pure personality. This could also be a means of showing the audience how Lionel organizes his thoughts, and what his priorities are. This idea was inspired by the television series called The Bachelorette, as they step aside from their dates to speak to the camera about what their current thoughts are, and help them decide what to do next. Another similarity between these two video diaries, is they sometimes get interrupted. In the case of The Bachelorette, people sometimes interrupt the recording, same as Lionel’s involuntary shouts and thoughts interrupting his daily life. “Of course after any talk my brain was busy with at least some low-level version of echolalia salad: Don’t know from Zendo, Ken-like Sung Fu, Feng Shui master, Fungo bastard, Zen masturbation, Eat me!” (Lethem, 4).

Being aware of your feelings and thoughts is definitely an advantage to anybody, especially those with neurological disorders. This adds depth and meaning to the novel because we begin to understand what it would be like to be in Lionels shoes. As the story goes on, Lethem is giving the audience perspective into Lionels mind. You begin to be able to predict how he’s going to react in certain situations. For example, at the top of page 47, a key scene demonstrating his ability to admit what influences his triggers, which sets a tone for the rest of the novel, “Minna was prone to floor-tapping, whistling, tongue-clicking, winking, rapid head turns, and wall-stroking, anything but the direct utterances for which my particular Tourette’s brain most yearned. Language bubbled inside me now, the frozen sea melting, but it felt too dangerous to let out. Speech was intention, and I couldn’t let anyone else or myself know how intentional my craziness felt,” (Lethem, 47). From a film outlook, it could be interesting to let the scene role, afterwards cutting to a video diary where Lionel vents about how Minna’s movements are particularly triggering some tics.

From a reader’s perspective, we can tell that sometimes Lionel lashes out, or feels his tics taking control but try’s everything he can to keep them under the radar. This is often an involuntary response to stress (Lethem, 14). Having a video diary entry every few scenes, where Lionel just blurts out all his tics at once could be dramatic, and interesting for the audience. People would begin to understand that releasing tics can be very therapeutic, and holding them in sometimes has the power to cause more damage, than good. “Eat shit, Bailey! My tics were always worse when I was nervous, stress kindling my Tourette’s,” (Lethem, 11).

Lionels position in the detective agency gave him purpose, to be apart of something meaningful. Since Minna was Lionel’s mentor, he feels as though he has to revenge his death, also potentially minimizing his guilt, considering Minna died on Lionel’s watch, that must be a heavy burden to carry. This is when we start to see Lionel’s character develop into a loyal, devoted and ambitious character. He discusses his feelings after he discovers his main lead in the investigation wasn’t leading him anywhere. Lionel typically feels as though he’s inferior to the others, however we begging to get the just that he no longer feels threatened by the garbage cop, exposing his more dominant side. Usually Lionel is indifferent about people or he feels less than then but now he’s stepped up. On page 119, Lionel expresses his emotions, unlike we’ve seen in any other part of the novel, saying “I felt annoyed” because he would have to deal with Loomis (the garbage cop) and his sandwich would go uneaten. Also feeling confused, about the investigation, his leads were not adding up and he feared that the Minna Men were getting targeted, “someone was hunting Minna Men” (Lethem, 120). This part is significant because he’s unraveling the mystery on his own, taking this investigation so seriously that he’s sacrificing is only other goal, which is to find somebody who genuinely loves him for who he is, rather than see him for his disorder.

Lionel is very conscience of how others observe him, which makes less confident than the others when it comes to woman. This would be a perfect opportunity to show Lionel’s sensitive side, while still keeping it humorous. Many people would be able to relate to Lionel’s awkwardness around women, and I think it would lighten the seriousness of the investigation. “Bot oh, if I could have just spent a week or so with my hands on Julia’s breasts then I cold think straight!” (Lethem, 104). I can picture Lionel grasping onto Julia with a funny expression on his face that says it all. The key to good story telling is to show what you mean, rather than explain, which kills the vibe a little bit. Kimmery is the other woman in the novel, the woman that boots Lionels confidence, and gives him hope that there’s somebody out there that could really truly love him for who he is, rather than being defined by his Tourette’s. “I felt a thrill at being taken so seriously” (Lethem, 143). Sacrificing it all with Kimmery, in order to pursue his only other priority. “In the city on the other side of the door a giant killer lurched around unafraid, and it was my job to find him,” (Lethem, 217). This adds depths to the novel because he would rather sacrifice his own love life to avenge the death of his mentor.

Immediately when reading the instructions for this essay, I thought to myself that you, Ed Norton would play the role of Lionel perfectly. Being a filmmaker, and an actor, you have all the qualifications, with the passion for this novel that nobody else but Jonathan Lethem has.

Chelsea Silva-Martin


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