This documentary feels like a big warm hug…from an octopus. Don’t worry, we were confused too. But talk of this heart-warming, beautiful and – believe it or not – really quite emotional documentary about an octopus was everywhere last autumn, and now it’s gone and won an Oscar.
My Octopus Teacher is filmed and narrated by the diver and filmmaker Craig Foster, who at the beginning of the film talks of suffering burn out and depression, feeling like he wasn’t being a good parent, nor a good artist, and feeling lost. So, he decides he will free dive every day in the kelp forest near his home near Cape Town, South Africa, documenting his experiences as he goes.
From slightly unpromising beginnings, the story becomes something that could be pulled straight out of the pages of the most amazing children’s picture book. On one dive, Foster has a chance encounter with a young octopus, and decides to revisit the creature every day in an attempt to win its trust. And it works. Soon the pair are swimming about together, the little sea creature even landing on and looking straight at Foster, as if they were best pals.
Throughout the film, we watch this relationship grow into a loving, if slightly weird, friendship, and despite our better judgement, it is completely captivating – watching this bond form between man and (slimy) beast is fascinating. But it’s not all easy viewing – there are incredibly emotional, almost tear-inducing moments when the octopus encounters predators and grows into old-octopus-age, and seeing how moved Foster is sure to have you feeling emotional.
However, we do need to address the octopus in the room – a lot of people were a bit freaked out by this relationship. And not just because it’s slightly weird for a grown human man to be mates with an eight-legged cephalopods, but because…they thought they thought their relationship had an air of the erotic to it. Naturally, the internet went wild with memes – let’s just say, there was a lot of tentacle talk.
But then again, the internet will make a conspiracy out of anything. For us, this is just a glorious, beautiful film, utterly peaceful with the gentle narration of the filmmaker, and the sound of waves softly crashing to shore. And if you ever need something to calm a nervous mind, My Octopus Teacher could be just the thing.
It’s more than just a TV tonic though, as the film has now won the 2021 Academy Award for best documentary. The films many fans will be pleased. Among them is Variety’s Guy Lodge, who says “the female octopus in question is but one attraction in a splashily filled coloring book of wafting kelp, electric-bright fish, knobbly crustaceans and darting, Beetlejuice-striped pyjama sharks,” and “the documentary captivates as a vision of an earthy parallel universe.”
First shown September 2020. You can watch the trailer here: