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What is Post-Avatar Depression, and why I did not experience it?

Don’t worry, there are no spoilers.

I haven’t stepped into a theatre since December 2019. I decided to change that by having a solo evening out to watch Avatar: The Way of Water, and escaping from the freezing temperatures in London.

I was just 9 when the first film came out and have never been a part of the Avatar fandom. But when last week I read in the media about how numerous people have been experiencing low moods and depressive feelings after watching the film, I thought that this might be a reason to end my no-cinema streak and watch the movie to understand what viewers have been experiencing.

This sadness that people have been speaking of has been dubbed “Post-Avatar Depression.” As the name suggests, it refers to the low mental state of viewers, upon realising that the planet of Pandora, and its residents, the Na’vi, are indeed fictional.

This experience of viewers isn’t new: the conversation around it started when the first film came out, in 2009, under the term “Avatar Blues”. There is no doubt both films in the series provide a deeply emotional experience for viewers. In fact, some members of an Avatar chat forum after the first film discussed how they contemplated suicide, for the chance to be reincarnated in a world like Pandora. I find that rather worrying, and hope that all those who experienced depressive or suicidal thoughts got the support they required.

How did the first film make me feel?

I must admit, I watched the first film only a few days ago. I was indeed captivated by the scenery of the fictional planet Pandora, where the film takes place. The enchanting forests, along with their sights and sounds, reminded me of the beauty of the Amazon rainforest (as it appears in David Attenborough’s documentary “Planet Earth” which I thoroughly enjoyed), and what Earth would’ve looked like before the disastrous effects of pollution and global warming took over.

What was my emotional experience after watching the sequel?

As I dove into the deep blue waters of the planet with Jake Sully and Neytiri (the main characters), I was mesmerised by the effects that gave birth to the beautiful aquatic world James Cameron created for the film. Together with the characters, I explored the ocean, where the second movie primarily takes place.

The first underwater sequence made me feel rather calm, just as the ocean always has. While this tranquillity is but a brief moment in a 3.5-hour film, I took it back with me and it continues as I write this piece. I felt a sense of serenity, knowing that this fictional world hasn’t been exposed to the wrath of ocean pollution, the way our planet sadly has.

The rest of the film was a roller coaster of emotions.

From feeling excitement when we’re reintroduced to Pandora, to awe at the sights of the aquamarine ocean, to fear and sadness in the movie’s final half, I experienced it all. Watching the marine life magically become bioluminescent in the darkness calmed me down after my nerves were on edge during the action sequences. I found myself shedding a tear, in one particularly emotional scene between a Na’vi and an animal that reminded me of the blue whale. Though the Na’vi aren’t human, their emotions said otherwise, and I’m sure all of us in the audience mirrored their feelings too.

The verdict

I might be in the minority of those who say this, but I didn’t experience the post-Avatar sadness after watching the film. Whatever sadness I felt was during the film, entirely related to the plot.

In fact, the movie made me more appreciative of our planet, and all its beauty, and taught me that our planet was once just as untouched, just as spellbinding as Pandora.

Earth needs some TLC, after recovering from a pandemic and being battered by global warming, and the movie should awaken within us that fire to conserve our planet in our own, meaningful way. I don’t mean this to become a piece about climate activism, I’m simply reflecting on my own emotional experience of the film.

I leave you with a quote from the film that I will remember for a long time to come.

“The way of water has no beginning and no end. Our hearts beat in the womb of the world. Water connects all things, life to death, darkness to light. The sea gives and the sea takes.”
Avatar: The Way of Water


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