After immersing themselves in what they describe as the “magical world of Pandora,” some fans of the $1.4 billion grossing film have found it difficult to tear themselves away from the idea of the lush planet on which a considerable portion of the film takes place. Has James Cameron’s film actually created a new form of psychosis?
According to friends and family of thus affected fans, the “disease” is actually manifesting as a longing of a far deeper order than standard films. The typical afflicted could be anyone, but with a particular emphasis in those who are normally environmentally mentally active, or who consider themselves to be able to relate to the alien race in the film, the N’avi. Those who report the strongest feelings of lost have even declared they had been suffering depression ranging in extremes all the way to a few rare individuals even claiming to have considered suicide after the spell of the film was broken. Still others have used logic to help them cope, with one fan forum poster even declaring that they are glad they’re not on the planet Pandora as it seemed to be a very dangerous place.
Is this the first time a film has had such a profound effect on its viewing populace? Not even close. In the 1970’s when George Lucas’ Star Wars came out, no one had ever seen a film quite like it. Fans finally had a moving visual medium to relate to years of excellent science fiction that extended beyond the wildly popular comics of the decade. As the movie ended, they demanded more. And as the 80’s began, fans filled the void they felt for the world of high fantasy science fiction and adventure in the best way they could think of: they obsessed over the movie, bought every piece of Star Wars memorabilia available, and created an entire industry of Star Wars merchandise. Is Avatar going to be the next cultural phenomenon to fill this void? Those who have seen it will most certainly agree its message is certainly contemporary enough to influence a lot of people.
So has the cultural shift that appeared because of other science fiction films such as Star Wars made a second appearance in James Cameron’s new blockbuster? What will the momentum built up from this new film be used for? It will be interesting to watch in the future what fans of Avatar find themselves migrating toward.
In the meantime, until the fan-base is picked up by activist groups, they are generating quite a bit of energy toward creative endeavors, expanding the experience of the film with creative works such as stories related to the film (fan fiction) and art. It’s certainly an interesting quality our society has where we will immerse ourselves so thoroughly in an idea based on a different world when our own environment (both natural and man-made) seems to atrophy or die off around us. Perhaps that is the true magic of fantasy. The world we imagine is one where the shortcomings of our own existence is supplemented by another universe in which our desired realities are manifest. As fans of the film cope with their depression, I only offer that they look at the world around them and seek out the true beauty it hides.