My Octopus Teacher
An intimate portrait of man and mollusc
Craig Foster’s haunting documentary, My Octopus Teacher, is unlike anything else I’ve watched on Netflix, although non-fiction has quickly become the platform’s forte. This show is less Attenborough and more ‘gonzo nature’, an 85-minute tale of one man’s experience with one cephalopod.
The film begins at a slow pace, Foster describing his method for adjusting to the seas with as minimal separation as possible. It’s his mission to experience the other-worldly atmosphere as authentically as he can, so there’s no scuba gear or other equipment that might get in the way, just flippers and a diving mask.
It’s an approach that rewards time and time again. Not only does it allow Foster to get closer to this animal than you could possibly imagine, it also helps maintain the fidelity of what we’re seeing: a world that we’re privileged to experience in all its natural glory, with absolutely minimal intrusion.
Shot in the waters off South Africa, the cinematography is simply breathtaking, all the more so for its apparent simplicity. I have no idea quite how filming was achieved; although it’s presented very much as a one-man operation, there are third-person shots of Foster which hint at the involvement of others. But the illusion — however great — is exactly what’s required to heighten the sense of intimacy on show.
For make no mistake, this is a love story of raw intensity.
To reveal too much about the plot would be unfair, although there really are only one or two moments of high drama. The focus here is on the relationship between man and animal and, in a wider sense, the natural world around us.
It’s a captivating, beautiful portrait of a connection between two creatures at its most fundamental. On occasion, Foster is faced with that timeless dilemma: should he be observing or intervening? Of course, the answer must lie somewhere in-between the extremes, but these moments of tension are played at a perfect pitch, and its here where the visceral emotion reaches its peak. No doubt: you will be moved to tears, and you’ll struggle with the very same conflict.
My Octopus Teacher is a stunning piece of film, one which will — as its title so subtly conveys — tell you more about one octopus, one man, and every creature on this planet than you could have ever expected.