With the Oscars just a few days away, I’m trying to catch up on all the ones that slipped by. I’d heard about My Octopus Teacher from friends, but thought they must be exaggerating when they said they LOVED IT! I mean a movie about a man’s relationship with an octopus. Really? Well, now I get it. It is amazing filmmaking! And it’s in the running for Best Documentary for good reason. It’s a beautifully shot, touching story that teaches us all a thing or two about a creature we probably haven’t give much credit to for its intelligence and ability to communicate, and also about how we humans miss out by giving short shrift to so many fascinating creatures all around us.
The human in the story is Craig Foster, a burnt out South African filmmaker who decided to take a break and head back to a seaside haunt he’d enjoyed in his childhood. He planned to spend time diving in the sea forests there. He also made a decision not to use a tank or a wet suit, to be more in tune with the surroundings and his own body, despite the frigid waters. And then one day he met an octopus. And this is the amazing thing about the film. They actually develop a relationship. You might even call the film a love story. The octopus begins to trust him. And he starts visiting every day. And for a year, he and the cephalopod play in the ocean together.
It’s easy to think that the octopus is being anthropomorphised, but there are moments in the film that kind of take your breath away, like when the octopus reaches out and takes Foster’s hand or when she attaches herself to his chest. There really is a comfort and trust there. And as she’s coming to the end of her lifespan, there’s real sorrow from Foster. You can’t help but mourn the end of their friendship.
The film is the product of 8 years of shooting, over 3,000 hours of footage. And the post-production team did a masterful job of cutting to the story. It’s gorgeous in that kelp forest. And you grow to see the octopus as anything but another mollusk in the big blue sea. She’s a full blown character. It’s the most unusual documentary I’ve seen in a while, and I highly recommend it to wide audiences. It really is a great doc!
It’s streaming on Netflix.
[Mainstream Chick’s take: It took me a little while to get into the documentary. It starts off looking and sounding like most any other visually stunning but slow-paced nature doc. But once you get invested in the relationship between man and octopus, it’s all quite mesmerizing. For a more in-depth review (get it?), check out this episode of The Cinema Clash podcast, embedded below the trailer. -hb]