Starring: Craig Foster
Director: Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed
Running Time: 85 mins
My Octopus Teacher is a South African documentary about a man who developed a strong bond with a common octopus, visiting her every day and documenting her life in the wild.
It surely can’t be that interesting to follow a man and an octopus underwater for an hour and a half, right? Well, not only is My Octopus Teacher a riveting and eye-opening view into the natural world, but a deeply intimate and moving emotional ride, bringing us close to the minds of both man and octopus.
Contemplative in its style and patient in its pacing, My Octopus Teacher doesn’t rely on flashy, overdramatised storytelling at any point. That means it’s a very understated movie, and although that may hurt it in the opening stages, it allows the film to develop very organically, ultimately tugging at your heartstrings in beautiful fashion.
With an elegant musical score, gorgeous cinematography and a calm but emotive narration from Craig Foster, the man who developed this incredible relationship with an octopus, My Octopus Teacher is as calming a film as it is emotionally raw, and the way that it exposes all of its true feelings allows you to form such a strong connection with its two main personalities.
The story humanises the octopus through Foster’s narration, as he talks about how she – as he refers to the animal – helped him out of a dark period in his life, and showed him the unparalleled beauty of the natural world. Coupled with an astonishing view of the octopus’ incredible intelligence, you’ll fall for her just as strongly as Foster, making it a privilege to watch her entire life unfold in such a short timeframe.
What’s more, the way in which Foster is able to film and document the octopus so closely in her daily activities is scarcely believable. As well as gorgeous cinematography both on shore and below the water, the dynamism of the camerawork and the intimacy it offers with the octopus is absolutely incredible, and so much more insightful than any other nature documentary I’ve ever seen.
Of course, with just a one-year lifespan, Foster’s time with the octopus is inevitably short-lived, but through visiting her every day, he is able to show just how full an animal’s life can be – no matter how short it is. The film’s story is a soaring exploration of the complexity and beauty of nature, with an inevitable but undeniably moving conclusion.
The only weakness in that regard is that My Octopus Teacher starts off as a very emotional documentary, perhaps jumping the gun when the most intense emotion could have been left to the very end. Its contemplative style is great to see from the beginning, but I feel that a more gradual build in emotional intensity would have made the development of Foster and the octopus’ bond all the more powerful, and the ending all the more heart-wrenching.
Overall, however, I was hugely impressed by My Octopus Teacher. A simple and elegant documentary on the surface, the film is filled with powerful emotional depth and an incredible, eye-opening view on the natural world, making for an undeniably moving watch throughout. So, that’s why I’m giving it a 7.6.