One man’s extraordinary relationship with an octopus in a South African kelp forest reminds us all we are “part of this place, not just a visitor”.
Last month Netflix released the much-anticipated ‘My Octopus Teacher’, a feature-length documentary film following the story of wildlife photographer Craig Foster as he reconnects with nature through an unlikely new friendship. After falling out of love with film making and spiralling into a depression, Craig decides to re-connect with his childhood roots by starting to swim and free dive in the turbulent waters by his home in Western Cape in his native South Africa. When he finds a particular area of kelp forest that is home to an inquisitive female common octopus, he commits to returning every day and document her behaviours. The result is a beautiful story of discovery and friendship, which when coupled with breath-taking underwater photography and a captivating score, provides us with one of the best wildlife documentaries in recent times.
What makes ‘My Octopus Teacher’ so incredibly unique is the extraordinary relationship between Craig and his nameless octopus companion. After weeks of returning to her den in the kelp forest, she eventually lets down her guard and becomes fixated with Craig, playing with his equipment and even engaging in physical contact. As time progresses the two start to become surprisingly close and develop a strong mutual bond, which despite several setbacks remains constant throughout. This is something that is expressed through an incredibly honest and powerful voiceover by Craig who talks openly about how deeply he comes to care about his new companion. This incredible relationship between two completely different species provides a powerful emotional through line to this film that really sets it apart from similar pieces of work.
In addition to being totally adorable and emotionally gripping, the relationship between Craig and his octopus has also allowed him to film some incredible behaviours and learn things about these alien creatures that were previously unknown to science. As a result from start to finish the audience is treated to a succession of incredible sequences that show off the intelligence, creativity and physiology of this amazing animal. This includes seeing her strategically hunt for different types of food, expertly change colour and mimic her environment, walk across the seafloor on two legs, hide herself inside an armour of shells and rocks, fight off predatory pyjama sharks, play with shoals of fish and even regrow a severed arm. All of which quite possibly make this film the most in-depth insight into the lives octopuses yet.
However, at its core this film is really a story of reconnecting with nature. The relationship Craig develops, not just with his octopus companion but also the kelp forest as a whole, changes the way he thinks about his own relationships with people and the environment. As the audience we see him develop a deeper understanding of what it means to be a part of the natural world, as well as how his entire outlook on life is changed as a result. Cameos from Craig’s son Tom also show how he develops a desire to pass on this new found knowledge to others, which is another important aspect of this film. It is for this reason that ‘My Octopus Teacher’ is such a fitting name for this project, because Craig learns so much about what it is to be both octopus and human at the same time.
Overall ‘My Octopus Teacher’ is one of the most entertaining and educational wildlife documentaries you will ever watch. The fascinating insight into these remarkable creatures and the incredibly moving human story behind it culminates in a truly amazing film. An enormous amount of credit must go to all those who worked on the film, but in particular Craig Foster. Not only for capturing his incredible relationship with an octopus and highlighting the importance of the natural world, but also for being so open and honest in doing so.
You can check out the trailer for ‘My Octopus Teacher’ below and watch it for yourselves on Netflix.