Hello Edward, you have previously asked me about the one aspect that could tie everything up, and here I am to give you my answer. I think the film adaptation should focus on the secondary characters. Of course, the protagonist is important, but it is through the secondary characters that Lionel’s depth is unveiled. There is also a change of attitude from how the secondary characters view Lionel at first in comparison to how they treat him as the story goes.
What are secondary characters? Who are they in Motherless Brooklyn?
There are different characters in a storyline. Yet, we could categorize them in three groups; protagonists, antagonists, secondary characters. The protagonists are the ones who lead the story, making it go forward. The antagonists are the ones who prevent the protagonists from achieving their goal. It could be confusing at first to think who are the antagonists in Motherless Brooklyn, if we have not finished the book, because we could think of a lot of people such as Tony, Fujisaki Corporation, Matricardi & Rockaforte, Polish Guy and Gerard. Once we finish the story, we could pinpoint it to Gerard, because he was the mastermind behind Frank’s assassination. But is this story merely about a protagonist trying to find his antagonist’s true identity? Everyone might have a different opinion, but mine is that this story, was all about the protagonist, trying to define himself through finding the killer. To sum it up, Lionel’s abstract goal would have been to define his identity and to do that, his concrete goal was to find the killer, because he thought becoming a detective could bring him closer to Frank, and perhaps becoming the next Frank Minna. Although Frank was dead, he wanted to be approved by him through finding his killer. This is why I would like to think of everyone as a secondary character, excluding Lionel. These secondary characters are all connected through the protagonist, Lionel. Secondary characters are very important because they are here to enhance the story line. They are able to fill in the void and add more elements to the storyline.
It is a conspiracy; Wheels Within Wheels.
How should we focus on the secondary characters though?
We should be able to display how they make Lionel grow as a character, or at least how Lionel behaves around them. He shows different sides of him with different characters. Dialogue exchanges are important. The atmosphere he shares with each character is different, and should be well portrayed. Below you will find a summarization of Lionel’s character with different secondary characters.
First, we are revealed of Frank Minna, he is the only one who treats Lionel sincerely. He helped into shaping the initial Lionel, from a boy to a man. “With the help of Minna’s book I contextualized my symptoms as Tourette’s, then discovered how little context that was.” (Lethem 82) Lionel got to define a little more of his own self through Frank. Lionel had always wanted to be acknowledge by Frank, in a sense he was, but Lionel wanted more. Although Frank went on special trips with the others, Lionel would not regard that in a negative way. Nonetheless, Frank’s death was the triggering event of the plot. It would have seemed that Frank did not wish to drag anyone into investigating his death, since he did not directly tell anyone about the culprit. Or maybe he did, leaving puzzle pieces to Lionel, as Frank trusted him to be the only one that might go as far as revealing the conspiracy. “It’s your fault if she misses her Rama-lama-ding-dong.” (Lethem 10)
Then comes the Minna Men. As it is presented to us, there seemed to be a hierarchy between them, where Tony tops, followed by Danny, Gilbert and we have Lionel in the bottom. Though he might be ranked last, Frank appreciates him a lot and sometimes goes out of his way for Lionel. In contrast, the Minna Men do not seem to share the same bond like the two did. It seemed as if the Minna Men were together for the sole reason of Frank. If it were not for Frank, they would have never gotten together. There is a bond between the Minna Men, but it is not sincere enough. The other Minna Men see and deem Lionel as a freak. Tony has wished to be Frank’s successor, and he assumed the role when Frank passed away. Though, we can clearly see that these two do not share the same bond, instead they are suspicious of each other. “I’d never faced Tony at gunpoint before […] Now, if I’d had a gun on him, that would have freaked me out.” (Lethem 182) Lionel would have his hardboiled act in front of Tony. Lionel did not seem to experience sadness when Tony died; that was how their relationship went. Then with Danny, their relation appeared to be better as they both had that respect for each other. “Leadership of L&L had fallen to him like an easy rebound […] He took my account of the events in Maine and nodded once, and we were done speaking of it.” (Lethem 305) They did not exchange many dialogues, but their relationship is not as tense as the relationship with Tony. Also, Lionel had acknowledged Danny to be in charge of the new L&L, despite the fact that Lionel wanted to become Frank’s successor. In comparison to his relationship with Gilbert, although they were both to witness Frank’s death, they digested in different ways. Lionel could not suppress his fear and his tics happened and we can witness the embarrassment felt from Gilbert as Lionel had his tics. However, Gilbert spent most of his time in jail during the storyline, so we could not have seen much of their interactions, except the tensed atmosphere during the car chase, and that scene should be well portrayed as well in the movie. Having Loomis around, although he was the Garbage Cop, it felt like he had replaced Gilbert. Loomis overall seemed like a nuisance, but he added some humor to the storyline. Through Lionel’s description on Loomis, it was the first time we realized that Lionel was smarter than we thought. “In fact, I hated Loomis, let me count the facts […]” (Lethem 121) In the end, both Gilbert and Loomis joins the new L&L and a certain peace seems to maintain.
Upon meeting Kimmery, we sense change in Lionel. He seems to be able to hold off his tics. He slowly falls in love with Kimmery. She seems to return those feelings and they share a night together. Yet after that night, Kimmery reveals her true feelings. “You’re kind of overwhelming [..]” (Lethem 259) He shows his desperation towards her through his endless phone calls, but at the same time those phone calls are tics, but she does not understand them. Lionel thought all this time that she would be the one that understands him, but that is not true, since she only wanted comfort.
As all Minna Men desired to become Frank, they saw in Julia, the perfect woman; Frank Minna’s woman. It is clear that through their first interaction in the story, Julia only showed a hint of pity towards Lionel. As they meet again, instead, Julia has raised her guard against him. She distrusted him to the point that she thought he could be the mastermind behind the murders while Lionel had a strong will to protect her, after being unable to protect Frank. Though, he realized one matter, that helped him define more of himself; Julia was the most hardboiled character among all of them, as he had previously thought of himself as the most cynical character. It is also through Julia that Lionel releases his obsession over everything he had previously been on about. “Barnabaileyscrewjuliaminna” (Lethem 303)
By far, that is everything I could have thought of, this needs some polishing, but the idea of Lionel being his own antagonist should remain. These secondary characters each have their own colors, and they either bring out the best or worst from Lionel. The protagonist and his relationship to the secondary characters is what ties this whole story up.