Motherless Brooklyn: Edward Norton’s Passion Project

In Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn, the 1950s-set New York noir detective story he produced, directed, wrote and stars in, politics are not far from the surface. But they’re not the obvious parallels to any racist autocrats from New York of modern times, but instead focus on more timeless politics – the way disabled people and minorities are marginalized by rich and powerful interests.

Norton, at Poland’s 27th EnergaCamerimage cinematography festival to accept the Krzysztof Kieslowski prize, says these elements seemed deeply in tune with the period of the film, which he changed from Jonathan Lethem’s novel, set in modern times.

So the plot that your character, Lionel Essrog, uncovers in the film while battling his own Tourette-like syndrome, was this inspired by some of the work you do with non-profits in affordable housing?

In the plot in the book, the crime had to do with the Yakuza and the sea urchin markets and these things. Jonathan said to me once, ‘I wrote a B-plus plot for an A-plus character.’ He’s the first to say it’s kind of like a Rube Goldberg machine, an excuse to see Lionel work his way through the world. It’s like the way “The Usual Suspects” isn’t “about anything.”

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