In the year When “Avatar” first hit theaters in 2009, audiences had never seen anything like it before. James Cameron’s science fiction show became a phenomenon, transporting viewers to the colorful alien world of Pandora: a digitally-enhanced sprawling forest, floating mountains and majestic creatures.

But in the weeks since “Avatar” aired, CNN reported that some viewers were experiencing “depression and suicidal thoughts.” A bleak mood was ingrained with the euphoria: the Earth’s surface seemed gray compared to the film’s dramatic vistas — and the quotidian ways of humanity felt dull and limited compared to the symbiotic stability of the Na’vi, the blue human race native to Pandora.

A phenomenon known as “post-Avatar” depression among the fan community, the film overshadowed its initial release. Max Perrin, a 24-year-old digital artist living in Texas, had a highly emotional experience much later than his first crop of viewers. I didn’t see the movie until 2017.

“A lot of people have experienced this in the community,” Perrin says Difference. “It really made me rethink a few things. I had no idea that something like this could affect me so deeply. I had no idea how deeply it would change me. “

In Atlanta, Ga. Jacob Williamson, a 25-year-old physicist, suffered from late-onset depression after “Avatar.” While Williamson was among the masses who saw “Avatar” during its original theatrical run, it wasn’t until years later that he realized he had a serious fix on Pandora.

“The first time I saw it was probably years later, just watching it again on Blu-ray,” Williamson says. I experienced it again in 2018 after visiting Pandora – The World of Avatar at Disney World. It put me out of school for a semester.”

Perrin and Williamson are both members of Kelutral, an online “Avatar” fan community based on the messaging service Discord. In the year Since its formal launch in 2020, Kelutral has aimed to provide a forum for all “Avatar” fans, but it began as a group of people interested in learning and conversing in the Na’vi language.

Kelutral logo

Kelutral gained some attention last fall, appearing on the HBO series “How To With John Wilson.” The episode, entitled “How to Remember Your Dreams,” chronicles the humble conference of Lutral members in New York. Williamson and Perrin appear in the episode, as does Kelutral user experience designer Nick Paavo, a 33-year-old video game developer and musician living in Massachusetts.

While Paavo says he didn’t personally experience depression after “Avatar,” he estimates that “10 to 20 percent” of his peers were affected by the film in a community where he himself was involved.

“It’s part of who I am to help and understand,” says Pavo. “Now, it’s definitely going down… If you’re going through depression after Avatar, chances are you’re with us during the gap between films. The people coming in now were very good at living their lives without ‘avatars’.

Tovie Johnson, Seth Wright, Nick Pavo, Jacob Williamson, Andy Smith and Max Perrin pose for a photo at the Cellutral Summit in New York.

Perrin Pavo was one of the people who talked about the post-“Avatar” depression. The Kelutral community has played a role in many dramatic changes in Perrin’s life.

“I remember being blown away by his visuals and the story’s compositions and emotional beats. I was blindsided and swept off my feet,” Perrin said. “I was in tears. And I was just like, ‘I need to talk to someone about this’… That’s when I found the Discord server, now called the Kelutral community. I was just happy.”

Perrin, who had a lifelong fascination with linguists, found a support network in the channels of Kelutral’s Na’vi speakers. Despite the post-“Avatar” depression that took its toll on him, the group helped Perry find the language to acknowledge his own mental health issues.

“It felt like a wonderful dream, but now I had to wake up. “I had to go back into the darkness of reality, trying to figure out what I was going to do with my adult life,” Perrin said, recalling his experience after watching “Avatar.” “I was struggling with depression and I didn’t know what it was. I had no name. I was not allowed to seek psychiatric treatment, psychotherapy or the like. My family had religious views that contradicted much of science and medicine.

After getting into trouble with Perrin’s father, one of the leaders of the Kelutral community offers him a place to travel from Arizona to Texas and sleep while he begins to lay the groundwork for a new life for Perrin.

“They were the family I never knew I had,” Perrin said. “When I saw a movie about blue space aliens, I never thought that my life would change in a positive way.”

Pandora by Night, “Avatar” (2009)
©20thCentFox/Courtesy of Everett Collection

Williamson worked on his relationship with “Avatar”, his enthusiasm to engage with the property can cause depression. The solution he found worked best for him—simply to allow himself to be completely absorbed—he shared with others.

“I talked to the psychiatrist about it and she had one piece of advice I didn’t expect: do it yourself. Stop trying to stop yourself,” Williamson says, recalling the weeks after he left college for a semester. “I watched Avatar over and over again, dived into the language community and started learning Navi… After a week or so, it stopped. I haven’t had a single incident since then.

Now, the “Avatar” community is venturing into uncharted waters: the release of another series entry — and of impressive length, it’s even more technically impressive. A Disney World attraction, a handful of mocked-up video games and a handful of recent graphic novels, “Avatar” fans are largely driven by a self-sustaining fervor, fixing more than a decade on one film. “Waterway” creates waves in the community like nothing else. While helping Kelutral, Paavo observes several members pondering the mental health implications of returning to Pandora.

“There were definitely a couple of people — fewer than you can count on one hand — who said, ‘Man, I’m worried this is going to hit me differently,'” Paavo shares. “Most of us are blinded by excitement; we don’t even think about the implications of what the world will be like after this movie.”

There aren’t many heavy narrative expectations for Williamson’s “Waterway.” Finally, the prospect of expanding Pandora’s reach is more than enough to satisfy his appetite. But while advocating for a strong emotional viewing experience, Williamson seems confident in his ability to handle this situation.

“There’s always that little bit of fear that it might trigger me again… I could see him being a little bit emotional in the sense that it’s going back to Pandora. But, because we’re exploring new areas we haven’t seen before, it still has that shock of the new,” says Williamson. “I don’t think I’ll know it until I see it.”

As for Perrin, he’s excited about the linguistic implications of the new film, which could introduce the Metkaina tribe, a tribe that lives along Pandora’s reefs, into a new Na’vi accent through the story’s introduction.

“I don’t want a life without problems. “It was because the problems of the world of ‘Avatar’ seemed more insurmountable than my own problems,” says Perrin, reflecting on his depression after “Avatar” and the time he spent before moving to Texas. Like most people, I don’t think the first post-Avatar depression can be negative. It becomes more dignified, sensitive and withdrawn.

The peculiarity of Perry’s situation is not lost on him; Most of life’s paths aren’t shaped by a single sci-fi blockbuster. But after finding a support system through Kelutral, “Waterway” isn’t the only long-awaited return to his beloved alien world. It is a time of hard-fought victory.

“This is a movie about blue space cats,” Perrin chuckles. “There’s a good segment of people who are like, ‘Avatar 2? Do we really want this movie?’ Yes. Yes we did.

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