Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Some Of Us Are More Alone: A Review of Enlightened
People, myself included, love to say they don't mind being alone. Inevitably these people, myself included, have never really been alone. Of course, they may have been single for a year or alone for a weekend, only a bag of Funyons and reruns of the The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills for company. But as Tyler, the work friend of Laura Dern's Amy, the main character of the wonderful new HBO series Enlightened, tells her, Some people are more alone. Enlightened, created by Laura Dern and Mike White, written by the sublime Mr. White, offers us a glimpse into the heart of middle-age, dashed dreams, and cubicle despair.
Reviews of this show have been mixed which I believe can be attributed to the fact that this show feels too real and makes the viewer uncomfortable. There are no laugh tracks or gun fights to relieve us. Amy doesn't deal drugs or work in a bustling emergency room. Instead we start with her returning home from a new-age rehab called Open Air. Determined to put her very public breakdown and her messy affair with her boss behind her, she moves in with her mother (played to perfection by Dern's actual mother, Diane Ladd), she's forced to take a demotion from being a buyer in her large company to computer drone in the basement which she describes as a "warehouse for carnival freaks."
The show's painful earnestness puts us through our paces along with Amy as she remains determined to put her newfound wisdom to use while being challenged on all fronts -- an emotionally shutdown mother who prefers her flowers and dogs to people, her addicted ex-husband (Luke Wilson who also brings a scarily accurate potrayal of Levi, a man who makes no apologies for his use), and her former friends at work who now treat her as a pariah. Amy tries and tries again to make a connection. Bu her old life won't fit the new her. And her attempts to change people around her meet the natural resistance. "Don't try to save me," Levi tells her, his voice laced with warning.
And truth be told, Amy is having a hard emough saving herself. Healing in a beautiful, pressure-free setting is one thing. It's quite another to bring this zen quality into a world with watchful bosses, shopworn relationships, and the pain of ordinary life that is visited upon us all.
Amy's only new relationship is with Tyler, a fellow employee who has been banished to the basement to punch numbers all day. They form an alliance which will be tested by their differing expectations. At the midway point in the season, Tyler attempts to kiss Amy and her rebuff threatens their fragile ecosystem. When Tyler expresses his desire not to be alone, we sense his deep well of aloneness, the kind that can't be explained away by feigning a mutual understanding. (Oh, you lost your leg -- I broke my toe once. I totally get it!) Some people are more alone than others. But despite the gulf of dreams deferred, hopes denied, and endless reams of futility, we still respect the efforts of the characters to evolve, to become something more than they are. When Tyler smiles his tiny, sly smile, we sense he knows a secret. And Mike White knows one too -- the pain of being trapped and the beauty of an actual connection with someone despite all the forces, internal and external, that work against it.