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How Avatar Took Fans To The Edge Of Depression

Fictional settings have a way of drawing audiences in; whether idyllic or disturbing, certain locations seem to stir the imagination. Some even push viewers to find ways of taking the story even further. "Lord of the Rings" fans have proven that with numerous excursions across New Zealand's beautiful landscapes — many of which were included in the film series at some point. But what happens when there is no filming location? Or, even more importantly, what happens when fiction and reality blur in the quest for a fictional Utopia?

Nothing has brought that mentality to life quite like "Avatar" and its 2022 sequel "Avatar: The Way of Water." James Cameron's sci-fi adventure takes viewers to the world of Pandora. An exomoon, its surface is full of fascinating creatures and breathtaking scenery. Gorgeous crystal blue waters sweep across Pandora, matched by lush forests and floating rock formations. One of the moon's most striking features is the way nature connects to the Na'vi population; the process, known as Tsaheylu, is a deeply personal one between the creatures, inhabitants, and plant life.

Viewers have found "Avatar" to be an emotional experience, in no small part to the underlying themes relating to the environment. A select group is grappling with more intense feelings about this epic drama. With a new film in theaters, this segment of movie-goers is once again at the forefront of discussions about its impact on audiences.

The Avatar Blues came about with the first film's release

James Cameron defied the odds to make "Avatar" a global phenomenon. Groundbreaking effects and a thought-provoking storyline helped the film become a box-office juggernaut in 2009. At the time, certain audience members began reporting a longing to be on Pandora. This feeling went beyond wistful daydreaming, turning into something life-changing.

CNN first reported on what was deemed the "Avatar blues" in 2010. The condition is said to create depression in conjunction with viewing the film. For those who experience it, these feelings stem from a lack of ever being able to visit or interact with Pandora. Upon the first film's release, the outlet was able to find many comments on the subject due to a dedicated fan forum — "Avatar Forums." Those suffering from the "Avatar blues" could speak with others suffering or even find fans who could help them create a peaceful resolution to those feelings. Unfortunately, the condition can also manifest itself as suicidal thoughts.

A forum user, only known as Mike, spoke to this on another fan site called "Naviblue." "I can't stop thinking about all the things that happened in the film and all of the tears and shivers I got from it," the user wrote. "I even contemplate suicide thinking that if I do it I will be rebirthed in a world similar to Pandora and the everything is the same as in 'Avatar.' " There's no word on the user's current condition as of 2023 or if they received mental health counseling in connection with these thoughts.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

A sequel and theme park have continued the condition

Over a decade later, many more have viewed "Avatar." Of those, a surprising number have reported similar uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. Now with the label post-'Avatar' depression, viewers who were already living with these emotions are uncomfortably ready for its sequel. The users who once crowded into an online fan forum find themselves interacting on the Discord community Kelutral. More than a virtual community, users have provided support for each other. In-person events and meet-ups also give them chances to create very real connections.

Even before "The Way of Water," its members were faced with the prospect of actually visiting their dream world thanks to Walt Disney World. Their theme park, Animal Kingdom, debuted a new land based on the film. "Pandora-The World of Avatar" instantly became a must-see for Disney visitors, but even more so for die-hard fans. One member of Kelutral wrote of how important the addition was and showed how even it could impact those already dealing with their feelings. "The first time I experienced it was probably several years after, just rewatching it on Blu-ray," Jacob Williamson said during a Variety interview. "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."

The cause of Avatar Blues could be due to real circumstances

What are the reasons for this phenomenon? The causes for this connection to Pandora vary from person to person. Elana Premack Sandler L.C.S.W., M.P.H. explored the subject as part of a 2010 Psychology Today article. For Premack Sandler, the question came down to two points. The first asks if those who were already diagnosed with depression or at risk for it should avoid the film. Another pondered why this particular world while being unattainable, was also a desirable spot for these viewers.

The writer noted that some of it might be an attempt to escape the painful or difficult moments that come with everyday life. Taking away those moments means less of a balance that makes people more complete. Searching out the cinematic world negates the human connections that come with life's highs and lows.

Her advice is to search out very real connections to the good things in life while being honest about the bad or uncontrollable things that come with it. Premack Sandler suggested this strategy is about "...maintaining realistic expectations for what's possible in this world while being open to and working toward improvements."