Motherless Brooklyn (based on the novel of the same name) had been Edward Norton’s passion project for decades. Finally, now, he gets to live his dream releasing his screenplay as a full-length neo-noir. The film drew mixed reviews for its slow pacing but still drew praise for its talented ensemble and nostalgic production design.

Norton plays Lionel Essrog, a detective with Tourette’s Syndrome (a disorder which leads to frantic body movements and other symptoms) who is on a breadcrumb trail to solve his employer’s murder, in the backdrop of a gloomy New York of the 1950s. The movie is riddled with historical details of the era, nods to the pop culture of the time, and other Easter Eggs creating a mini-universe of Norton’s other films.

10 Hindu Cows and Fight Clubs

Willem Defoe plays a grumpy, mysterious character called Paul in the film. Paul can be often found arguing or mocking Norton’s Lionel in most of his scenes. In one such scene, he utters the phrase ‘calm as Hindu cows’. This seems like a subtle nod to Fight Club.

Fight Club is probably Edward Norton’s most popular film. So, it makes sense for Norton to offer a slight tribute to the classic. There’s a scene in the psychological thriller where Brad Pitt’s uber-cool soap manufacturer Tyler meets a shy Norton in a flight. Tyler shows him a safety manual with blank faces of passengers in the illustration. ‘Calm as Hindu cows’, he mutters.

9 A Wes Anderson Connection

In a newspaper clipping, our hero Lionel finds out that the film’s antagonist Moses Randolph will be at a gala at Lindbergh Palace Hotel. This is another Easter Egg by Norton as Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel too features a hotel of the same name. The Grand Budapest Hotel featured Norton and Willem Defoe in its ensemble, as has been the case with many other of Wes Anderson’s films.

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Even Bruce Willis who plays the main murder victim in Motherless Brooklyn shared screen space with Norton in Moonrise Kingdom, another of Wes Anderson’s quirky, aesthetic comedies.


8 Moses Randolph and Baseball Teams

Alec Baldwin’s character Moses Randolph is directly influenced by city planner Robert Moses. Moses has been responsible for reshaping the entire New York metropolitan network. Another aspect of his influence was in the domain of baseball. The owner of Brooklyn Dodgers had decided to abandon the team’s usual worn-out field and instead seek another property. He urged Moses to help but Moses was pretty adamant to create a parking space there instead. Future troubles around this eventually compelled Brooklyn Dodgers to leave New York for Los Angeles in 1957.

This is hinted in the movie through radio commentary. Later too, Moses Randolph mentions a baseball team playing where he stays.

7 Miles Davis Tribute Band

The jazz band featured in Motherless Brooklyn can be compared to celebrated trumpeter Miles Davis’s music act. The Miles Davis Quintet, however, dominated the modal jazz scene in the 1960s (a decade after the period in which the movie is set).

Comparisons can even be drawn from the leader of the band (played by The Wire‘s Michael K Williams) who is a hot-headed, raspy-voiced trumpet player, much like Miles Davis.

6 A Factual Error

While the movie is pretty much true to its noir setting of NYC, there are obviously a few hidden factual errors here and there. In the opening car chase, for instance, one can spot curb ramps (for the handicapped).

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A history junkie would tell you that the possibility of such ramps in New York seems highly unlikely. Such facilities for the differently-abled began to be implemented quite late, after the Americans With Disabilities Act, 1990.

5 The Two Jakes

It’s clearly evident that Motherless Brooklyn, like many other neo-noir flicks, is influenced by Chinatown. Edward Norton’s Lionel resembles Jack Nicholson’s Jake. Both face corrupt politicians, charming women, and bruised faces, in their quest to uncover the clues of a murder.

Lionel can be found getting his hand on a journalist’s press card in a scene. Lionel then keeps on using this identity to get answers from the people he encounters. Also, the journalist’s name is Jacob Gleason (Lionel introduces himself as Jake many a time while posing as the reporter). This assumption might sound far-fetched but it’s possible that Norton chose the name Jake on purpose.

4 A Radiohead Lyric

Edward Norton and the members of English rock band Radiohead have been friends since the 1990s. Norton even brought out lead singer Thom Yorke to write a song for the film’s soundtrack called Daily Battles.  The actor and writer admitted on throwing around little Radiohead references subliminally in the dialogues.

When Lionel explains his mental condition to Laura (portrayed by Gubu Mbatha-Rawand), he says that his head has ‘got to have everything in its right place’. This line is a reference to the classic Radiohead song Everything In Its Right Place.

3 Hidden Crew Members

This is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment. In a significant turn of events, Lionel finds out that Billy Rose has been killed in a club. The dimly-lit scene ideally is meant to show just Lionel and Billy’s corpse.

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But if you pause carefully, you can find two members of the crew on the left side for some reason. There’s a person hunched over, and a woman who can be seen wearing some sort of dust mask.

2 The Real-Life Muse Behind Gabby Horowitz

The character of Gabby Horowitz (played by Cherry Jones) is an activist who protests against Moses Randolph’s plans to displace the colored population of Brooklyn.

Her role and even her look with those ‘grandma glasses’ were inspired by activist Jane Jacobs who actually did stand up against Robert Moses over the issue of slum clearance in Greenwich Village.

1 ‘This is yours as much as mine’

As mentioned before, Edward Norton had been really passionate about this period piece of his. As the end credits roll, a list of names props under the title ‘The Director would like to thank’. And below all this is a special mention that reads ‘Shauna Lyn…This is yours as much as mine.’

There are high chances that this might be a token of gratitude to Norton’s wife Shauna Richardson, who serves as producer for Apatow Productions. It makes for a cute shout-out by Norton to his significant other.

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