The premiere of HBO’s new series, Enlightened, concludes with a slow-motion montage of Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern), dressed in a bright yellow sundress, basking in the morning light while beginning a new job. Accompanied by Regina Spektor’s “Human of the Year,” it’s a moment designed to be deceptively triumphant, eliciting an emotional response primarily out of the understanding that there’s no way such a happy moment could last - otherwise, why are we watching? Unlike her character of Amy, Laura Dern’s triumphs seem to be a never-ending Spektor montage. In an industry of career highs, career lows, career rebrands, drunken awards show appearances, rehab, sex tapes and Meryl Streep, Laura Dern’s steady stream of great work, exciting choices and spotlight-avoidance is a delightful anomaly. She’s important, even if your friends can never remember her name. “Why do we need Laura Dern,” you ask? Because this is what the world would be like without her.
Upon waking in Dernless (a world without Laura Dern), there would be little evidence suggesting a difference. Your alarm may be slightly louder, and you may find 2% milk in the fridge instead of skim, but overall things would seem fairly normal. That is, until receiving a notification from your MySpace account - because Dernless is a world without facebook. Allow me to explain. When Mark Zuckerberg and his family saw Jurassic Park in 1993, the film did nothing but solidify his interest in technology and Wayne Knight-related violence. In Dernless, however, Jurassic Park was never completed because the role of Ellie Satler went to Molly Ringwald. Her conflicts with the crew and torrid affair with Jeff Goldblum caused enough disruptions that Universal Pictures shelved the project before Steven Spielberg could complete it. Since there was no other competition that weekend, the Zuckerbergs saw Cliffhanger instead, after which Mark developed a passion for rock climbing. He disappeared somewhere along the border of Venezuala and Guyana in 2003.
Now it’s time for work, so you head to the coffee shop down the block and order a latte from your favorite barista, David Lynch, who loves repeating orders backwards and lamenting over his film career that ended after the disastrous release of Wild at Heart. “Don’t ever let Nicolas Cage play both the male and female lead of anything,” he says while handing you the receipt. At the bottom it reads, “What’s your favourite seasonal drink? Vote now at Starbucks.ca!” Confused, you ask David where you are. “Kroy Wen,” he says.
“I know we’re in New York,” you respond. “I mean the country.”
You run outside and scan the roofs of nearby buildings until seeing a red maple leaf waving above a bank. A man bumps into you and gives you a genuine apology. In Dernless there is only one country, and that country is Canada. This can’t be explained by Laura’s absence nor is it necessarily a bad thing, but you still run down the street and frantically grab a free weekly. Its headlines worsen your nausea:
Upset and disoriented, you run into a nearby intersection, stumble onto the asphalt, and scratch your knee. An approaching car swerves to avoid you, but after a sigh of relief and the realization that universal health care will make getting stitches hassle-free, you notice another vehicle speeding from the opposite direction. “Clever girl,” you whisper just before it strikes and jolts you back to reality. Upright in your bed and clutching a stuffed Jeff Goldblum, you scan the familiar room and smile lovingly at the Jurassic Park posters and memorabilia that fill its walls and shelves.
In “It’s A Wonderful Life,” George Bailey (James Stewart) discovers what would have become of Bedford Falls and its residents had he not been born. It’s a touching hallucination, but a ruined town is no match for the wasteland our planet would have become had Laura Dern not been here to occupy it. Oh, Donna Reed was doomed to a life of loneliness and ridicule without James Stewart there to marry her? Big deal. How would it feel to exclaim, “Dr. Hammond, I think we’re back in business,” in a crowded room at just the right moment only to be greeted with silence and cocked heads? It’s so wonderful that none of us will ever know.