A phenomenon known as “post-‘Avatar’ depression” among the fan community first appeared in 2009 after the release of the James Cameron science-fiction spectacle that transported the viewer to the colorful alien world of Pandora: a digitally realized environment of sprawling forests, floating mountains and majestic creatures—a world that no one had even imagined before.
In the weeks following the release CNN reported that some viewers were experiencing “depression and suicidal thoughts.” A gloomy sentiment had taken hold of them upon viewing the riot of color in the fictional world created digitally. It contrasted so badly with Earth’s surfaces that now seemed gray, and humans pale and bland compared to the Na’vi, the race of blue humanoids native to Pandora.
This post-release depression cast a shadow beyond the film’s original release. For some viewers it was nothing short of life-disrupting. “The first time I experienced it was probably several years after, just rewatching it on Blu-ray,” says Jacob Williamson, a 25-year-old physicist living in Atlanta, Georgia. “I reexperienced it in 2018 after visiting Pandora — The World of Avatar at Disney World. It actually ended up taking me out of school for a semester.”
Max Perrin, a 24-year-old digital artist living in Texas, shares his experience after watching Avatar: “I felt like that was an amazing dream, but now I had to wake up. I had to return to the doldrum of reality, trying to figure out what I was going to do with my adult life.” Both these individuals had to seek help in overcoming the depression that had altered their worldview.
Now, the “Avatar” community is entering uncharted waters: the release of another series entry — and an epic-length, even more technically dazzling one. Up to now, aside from a Disney World attraction, a few video games and a handful of recent graphic novels, “Avatar” fans have largely been driven by self-sustaining enthusiasm, fixating on a single film for over a decade. “The Way of Water” will inject a new experience into the community like nothing has before.
Nick Paavo, a 33-year-old video game developer and musician living in Massachusetts, is anxious. “There’s definitely been a couple of people…who have mentioned, ‘Man, I’m worried that this is going to hit me different’…Most of us are blinded by excitement; we’re not even thinking about the possible consequences of what the world looks like after this movie.”
Williamson too is fearful about his possible reaction to the latest Avatar film, The Way of the Water. “There’s always that little bit of concern that it might trigger me again… I could see it being slightly less emotional in the sense that it is a return to Pandora. But, since we’re exploring new areas that we haven’t seen before, it does still have that shock of the new…I don’t think I’ll know until I see it.”