“Last Exit to Brooklyn /Letze Ausfahrt Brooklyn” was filmed by the German director Uli Edel in 1989, with Jennifer Jason Leigh brilliantly casted as Tralala. Though still a punch in the stomach, the film is much less revolutionary than the book. Positive is the fact, that it manages well the coexistence of extreme violence and extreme poetry in the book. The film is specially sensitive to the struggle for survival, for in fact it puts more emphasis on the history of the strike than the book – confronting the viewer with the unstoppable march of capitalism and its injustices. Undoubtedly, the book is more about repressed sexual pulsions and what would happen if in a given abnormal context – such as the ongoing strike – they were to irrupt. Let’s not forget that the book was also written as a reaction against Mcarthian moral.
In Edel’s movie, Tralala, after being raped, ends consoling a young boy from the neighborhood that drops in on the scene, and always had a crush on her. Of course that, because he is still a boy, innocent, virgin, and with dreams of his own, he would be the only one that would like her in a “pure” way, and would think of her as a woman and not an object (aside the men who truly loved her). But, such scene is nowhere to be found in the book. This is a manipulation of Selby Jr’s work, a severe change of his story though it certainly had the approval of the author, since Hubert Selby Jr was involved on the set everyday.
Why did Edel introduce this change? Moreover when this is not just any scene but the “highlight” of the entire book, I would say. “Tralala” which is only 20 pages long but, took Selby 2 ½ years to write and about this he says: “
I spent a long time “emotionally involved” with the people. When I finally finished “Tralala” I was in bed for two weeks. The same with Georgie, and the others, until I learned how to write, and not be devastated by my peoples pain”. (Selby Jr, 2004, p. xii)
Tralala ends consoling the boy, as if she was his mother, because he has just witnessed the hardest of realities, the nightmarish side of human passions in action. She embraces and reassures him because as the vision of his boyish dreams, she represented the ideal for him, and that has just been shattered. She is telling him that everything is all right, because she free-willingly accepted punishment and sacrifice. There is no need to forgive all those men. They did not use her but, she used them instead, as instrument for her own punishment. She accepts and resigns to her place in the order of things, which is to be an object. And so she repeats: “It’s ok. It’s ok”. And the child cries because he just realized, probably for first time in his life, the unfairness of the world, the impossibility to change things and he is crying out of frustration.
Eli put the boy in, because the boy is the viewer himself. I believe such a scene was added because, it is clearly intending to make it easier for the viewer to understand Tralala’s actions and also because it is reinforcing the grotesque meant originally by the author of the book. Finally because the boy is acting out before our eyes what we feel ourselves, so we can deal/ digest such terrible situation.
About the process of shooting the film Selby himself tells a curious episode.
“We were screening the dailies of Harry/s crucifixion and when we were finished, and the lights went on, Uli, the director, asked me what I thought. It was just he, myself, Bernd, the producer, and Desmond, the screenwriter. I started to answer him and I ended up crying and sobbing so intensely I could not speak for many minutes. I was totally shattered. I remember so clearly hearing myself say, That poor son of a bitch, he only wanted to be happy. My involvement with the film made it possible for me to see how much I love these people”. (Selby Jr, 2004, xviii)