My Octopus Teacher – Review, the strength of an unthinkable friendship
Here is our review of My Octopus Teacher, winner of the best documentary at the 93rd edition of the 2021 Oscars.
My Octopus Teacher is the story of an incredible friendship, the one between a South African filmmaker and an octopus. Underlining the unusual synopsis is the very beginning of the documentary: “many say that an octopus is like an alien”, says the naturalist director Craig Foster, and indeed his story is almost a chronicle of a close encounter of the third kind. Almost like in Aliens of the Deep from James Cameron, our Craig ventures into the dark depths of the Kelp Forest in South Africa, near Cape Town, to discover another and alien world. To guide him, as the title suggests, he will have a good teacher: that octopus that will prove to be a special friend for him, which in a moment of spiritual crisis will bring him back into harmony with nature and with himself. The victory to the Oscar 2021 as best documentary it was certainly deserved for My octopus Teacher (in Italian My friend at the bottom of the sea): let’s find out why in our review.
A journey of self-discovery
My Octopus Teacher was born from Craig Foster’s decision to retire to his home in South Africa, after a period of severe depression. Craig is a documentarian who is experiencing a moment of rejection for his work. This discomfort also spills over into the family, where the man does not feel up to his role as a parent. To get out of this situation he decides to go back to doing what made him happiest as a boy: diving.
Precisely during one of these, he makes acquaintance with us with a female octopus. He then decides to start study their habits, behavior, habitat and its hunting and defense techniques from predators. Slowly, this “alien” begins to get used to his new friend, showing himself as a being from strong intelligence and unexpected communication skills.
The two take us on a journey to rediscover ourselves, to reconnect with the deepest part of our self. And it is precisely for this reason, as we hope to inform you in the review, that My Octopus Teacher is not just a simple documentary. Foster’s approach is not anthropocentric, he is not there to conquer or judge: he simply observes and learns with the viewer, letting himself be amazed by every little event.
The documentary system remains a frame, while the focus is on the fortuitous event that will powerfully become part of Foster’s life. For about a year the man will come into contact with the mollusk. He films it, admires it, accompanies him on marine raids. In his meals, in his games, in his escapes from sharks, in the healing processes, right up to the last moment.
At the bottom of the sea
The splendid direction of Pippa Ehrlich And James Reed, the magnificent underwater shots of Roger Horrocks, the original music composed by Kevin Smuts, as well as the narrative of Foster himself accompany us throughout the narrative arc of the story, making us the real protagonists, and making us feel literally at the bottom of the sea. The play of light, the breathtaking shots and the marine sounds manage to put anyone at peace with the world.
This docu-film is above all a journey to discover deep feelings, of what lies in our soul, of everything that would never have emerged on the surface. The narrative power of My Octopus Teacher it pushes us to empathize with the creature, especially when he seeks contact with Foster himself: a feeling that was previously incredible, especially when compared to an apparently inexpressive animal.
The type of production behind the work, then, makes the final result even more stunning. My Octopus Teacher requested ten years to be made, with Foster that he dived for about a year every day, without wetsuit or equipment, in the freezing depths of the Atlantic, making about 3000 hours of filming. After the making of the film Craig Foster founded Sea Change Project, a community of scientists, storytellers, journalists and filmmakers dedicated to the preservation of marine riches.
Without special effects, without the aim of breaking the box office, Craig and his octopus thrilled us, they made us get back in touch with nature, they told us the story of a friendship, of a man who manages to get back into balance with himself, and they revealed to us a hidden and mysterious world. Here then is clear the lesson that the whole fabulous aquatic world wants to give us in our review of My Octopus Teacher: seize the moment, and live life to the full appreciating every moment.
Just as Foster has questioned his work, his family and his entire existence, we should all take a step back, question our lives, and get back in touch with the wonders that surround us. Every corner of nature can teach us something, and the Academy Award for Best Documentary (present on the streaming platform of Netflix) has amply demonstrated this. Respecting nature, respecting oneself, everything becomes better.