Timothy Lee takes a thoughtful look at Orion and the Dark, along with the rest of Charlie's oeuvre, and examines the recurring theme of mental illness.
Since Being John Malkovich’s release, Kaufman has continued to baffle and impress viewers, as every movie he writes or directs is different from the last: Adaptation; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Synecdoche, New York; Anomalisa, and his 2020 Netflix nightmare scenario I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Fans and critics have tried to pin down Kaufman’s movies using terms like “surreal” or “meta,” but focusing on the structure rather than the content of his work is the wrong approach. It’s more revealing to consider the shared theme that ties all Kaufman’s films together, including his latest, the animated Netflix kids’ movie Orion and the Dark.
Charlie Kaufman’s protagonists have one crucial commonality: their shared mental health struggles. Depression, anxiety, obsessiveness, low self-esteem, and other mental health issues have been key components in all of Kaufman’s movies, explored through protagonists who each have different ways of coping. Whether it’s the driving conflict (in Anomalisa or I’m Thinking of Ending Things) or just a byproduct of the journeys they undergo (in Being John Malkovich or Adaptation), it’s a consistent, prominently featured theme in Kaufman’s work. Having mental health issues is an inescapable fate for a Kaufman protagonist, and at some point, they will inevitably be forced to confront these issues whether they like it or not, often with little success.
Kaufman himself has said, “There aren’t a lot of happy endings in my movies. I think maybe there aren’t a lot of happy endings in life.” And yet he grants two notable exceptions, for a fictionalized version of himself and a child protagonist.
Perhaps Kaufman sees a bit of himself in Orion and wants to give him the same sense of hope he gave his fictional counterpart from Adaptation. (Source)
I love articles like this--something a bit different from the standard review or interview. (Though I wish we had a couple of CK interviews re: Orion.)