Film Review: My Octopus Teacher

When I heard about David Attenborough’s new film, ‘A Life on our Planet’, which centres around the damage we are doing to the planet and the steps needed to reverse it, I felt conflicted. While I know that it is incredibly important to be informed and scared by this, I feel that my life is as stressful and anxiety filled as it is without adding more dread and guilt. I still haven’t worked up the courage to watch it yet, and if you feel the same, then I highly recommend My Octopus Teacher on Netflix as a much more calming alternative.

My Octopus Teacher (2020, dir. James Reed, Pippa Ehrlich) tells the story of Craig Foster, a South African free diver who develops a close relationship with a wild octopus he visits every day for around a year. Throughout the time they spend together, he learns about her and the world that she lives in, as well as discovering things about himself and his own life. Through stunning underwater photography and an incredible score, the film shows the relationship between human and wild animal flourish as the octopus learns to trust him. This experience is conveyed beautifully, with the edit drawing out the octopus’ personality and character.

This film is informative as well as emotive, extensively documenting the behaviour of an incredible animal that we don’t know a huge amount about. Foster captures an incredible range of behaviours and some amazing moments where she demonstrates her intelligence and physical capabilities. The octopus is a fascinating animal, made only more impressive when seen close up. Both her intelligence and the mind-blowing capabilities of her body make for something far stranger than our weirdest science-fiction (to paraphrase the documentary). I have always been fascinated by octopuses and so I was on board from the beginning, but if you have never paid any mind to them, I urge you to watch this film and learn something about this incredible animal.

As Foster keeps visiting the octopus and her trust in him deepens, their lives become intertwined as he becomes part of her world. He maps the area she lives in and becomes familiar with the other animals that share this pocket of the ocean. At one point, he has to track her and must learn to read the seafloor to locate evidence of her presence. Throughout this experience, Foster becomes one with nature. The perceived boundaries that have been built up by societal life between humanity and nature dissolve as Foster reconnects with the earth. He learns to understand her behaviour and her home as she welcomes him into it. This is the core of the film, showing that humanity is as much a part of this earth as the animals and plants we share it with.

Most people will never get the chance to have this kind of experience with a wild animal, and many rarely even spend time in nature. This is a tragedy and I think is one of the main reasons for the state the world is in at the moment. There is a psychological wall that gets built, separating humanity and our own lives to the rest of the life on Earth. Without experiencing nature and interacting with animals, it is easy to forget about it, and thereby damage it. This film documents a unique but incredibly profound and important interaction, showing someone returning to the earth and being accepted by it. I’m not suggesting that this film will completely change your outlook on the world but it will open your eyes to something incredible that might change the way you think about nature.

This is an incredible watch for all ages, with beautiful footage and an inspiring story, I would recommend this to anyone.

4.5 stars

Adam Quinn

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Covering: Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage,   Lambourn, Newbury, Thatcham & Theale