Can Watching Avatar Make You Depressed?

By now you know that James Cameron’s Avatar has made hundreds of millions of dollars both from U.S. box office sales and international audiences. But what you might not know is that many of the movie’s biggest fans report that it has sent them into a very real depression. According to an article on CNN, there are numerous sites (Avatar Forums, Naviblue) that host discussions about the film. The topic that has generated the most discussion is how to handle the depression that comes when you realize that you will never live in Pandora.

One commenter named Mike wrote:

“Ever since I went to see ‘Avatar’ I have been depressed. Watching the wonderful world of Pandora and all the Na’vi made me want to be one of them. I can’t stop thinking about all the things that happened in the film and all the tears and shivers I got from it.” I even contemplated suicide thinking that if I do it I will be rebirthed in a world similar to Pandora and everything is the same as in ‘Avatar.’

I guess that this is a good time to say that I saw the movie with my 14 year old son and some of the staff of The Crossing and I enjoyed it. The technical advances were truly amazing and gave the whole film a life like quality that hasn’t been possible up until now. In the past 3D has meant something akin to what you might see at Disney World–the headache inducing act of Kermit’s tongue seemingly coming within inches of your face. Avatar was my first positive experience with 3D. Sure the politics were a little heavy handed but I’ve come to expect that from Hollywood.

Why does the movie lead some into depression? Listen to what one person wrote on one forum…

“When I woke up this morning after watching Avatar for the first time yesterday, the world seemed…gray. It was like my whole life, everything I’ve done and worked for, lost its meaning. It just seems so…meaningless. I still don’t really see any reason to keep…doing thigs at all. I live in a dying world.”

Finally a quote by one of the forum’s administrator…

“I wasn’t depressed myself. In fact the movie made me happy. But I can understand why it made people depressed. The movie was so beautiful and it showed something we don’t have here on Earth. I think people saw we could be living in a completely different world and that caused them to be depressed.”

While it would be easy to mock these people and tell them to “get a life,” I think that we’d be better served by learning from what they are saying. The truth is that in one sense these people’s comments are extremely perceptive.

You see their longing for a perfect world isn’t unfounded. Whether we articulate it or not, all of us at one level wish that we lived in a world that is far different from the one we actually live in. The reason that we don’t like this world is because we weren’t made to live in it. The Bible says that we were created to live in the real Pandora. We were created to live in Paradise-in perfect relationship with God, other people, and creation. But when sin entered the world it distorted and corrupted all those relationships so that the world we live in is full of sadness and emptiness.

C. S. Lewis argued that the desire for a perfect world was evidence that one existed.

A man’s physical hunger does not prove that that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating, and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist. In the same way, though I do not believe (I wish I did) that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some men will. A man may love a women and not win her; but it would be very odd if the phenomenon called “falling in love” occurred in a sexless world.

So according to the Bible these reactions to Avatar are “normal” or even “right.” The movie stirred in them a desire for something more beautiful, something more glorious than life in a sinful world can ever satisfy. For you it may be something else that stirs that longing. But regardless of what it is that stirs your desire for something greater, know that it will never be found here. Whether a person realizes it or not, our discontentment with life here will only be satisfied by living in the world God intended-a world in which we are in perfect harmony with God, other people, and creation. The Bible calls that place heaven and it can only be gained through Jesus.

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