Based on the children’s book by Emma Yarlett, Netflix’s Orion and the Dark looks no different from any other DreamWorks Animation project. The setup also possesses an unshakable déjà vu quality as a little boy, Orion (Jacob Tremblay), meets whacky supernatural entities and embarks on an adventure that will change his life forever. There’s one key differentiator to this animated film, though: The presence of Charlie Kaufman as the writer. Having penned thought-provoking stories such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Kaufman injects Orion and the Dark with an unsettling anxiety. It’s an uncomfortable watch at times because of how real it is.
The constant fear of what might happen
Orion possesses the typical laundry list of fears any schoolboy might experience: Darkness, heights, bullies, gutter clowns, speaking to his crush, and so forth. These concerns don’t stop at what he’s physically afraid of, though, as his mind spirals out of control when he thinks of them. For every fear, he builds upon it as he creates a multitude of possible scenarios of what could happen thereafter. For example: Orion’s encounters with bully Richi Panichi (Jack Fisher). Orion considers standing up for himself, but he’s allowed himself to entertain the possibility he might accidentally kill Richi and land up in prison in the process. Is it a possible outcome if violence is involved? Absolutely. Is it likely, though? Not really.
Resultantly, Orion experiences an endless form of dread as he navigates his surroundings. He is terrified of what awaits him around every corner; however, the scariest monster is what could be. It’s a relatable feeling that many human beings wake up and fall asleep to on a daily basis as the only certainty in this current world is uncertainty – and it’s mortifying.
People wonder if today will be the day in which they receive the callous and often inhumane notification their job is being made redundant. This leads to the next fear of finding the money to pay rent, feed their Chihuahua Thorito, and afford the necessary surgery they had to save up for because the healthcare plan didn’t cover it. From there, the mind drifts off to the shame of telling friends and family about the layoff and wondering if the sympathy shown is actually pity for how much of a failure you are. Finally, this all comes full circle as you indulge in self-loathing for even having these negative thoughts to begin with. The worst part is if you manage to shut off the pessimism, Murphy’s law might decide to make a guest appearance that day and prove the concern was right from the start.
The paralyzing effect of living with anxiety
In terms of Orion’s crush, Sally (Shino Nakamichi), the universe intervenes and cuts him some slack as she approaches Orion and asks if he’d like to sit with her on the school’s Planetarium trip. It’s the opportune icebreaker that the shy Orion desperately needs to strike up a conversation with Sally; however, his irrational fear of what could go wrong at the Planetarium kicks in. He stands there, paralyzed by the endless stream of what-ifs and devastated by his inability to get out of his own way.
Again, this is representative of everyday life for a lot of people. When opportunities present themselves – whether it be in the form of relationships, jobs, or moving to a new city or country – a debilitating numbness descends on them. The mind plays out all the scenarios in which everything can go wrong and why it’s a bad idea to consider. What’s worse is how the optimistic part of a person’s instincts might point them to taking a risk, but the internal conflict feels like a cinder block weighing them down and preventing them from even trying. Like Orion, an embarrassment washes over and the question remains: Why can’t I be braver?
‘Orion and the Dark’ reminds us that no one is ever truly alone
In Orion and the Dark, Orion doesn’t discover a magic sword or amulet that gives him the courage to conquer his fears. The only way he does so is by realizing life consists of both light and darkness. He embraces the unknown, understanding there will be both good and bad moments on the journey. However, the most important lesson he learns is that he isn’t alone. There will be others who will be there to help him along the way, and he will return the favor, too, as he does so with his daughter in the future timeline.
The film’s message tells the audience that it’s okay to be afraid of the right now, tomorrow, and what could be – there’s no shame in it. Embarking on the journey of life isn’t easy, but it’s one taken with other passengers and never a long solitary walk. It might seem gloomy and ominous at points, but to quote Eric Draven from The Crow: “It can’t rain all the time.”