“My Octopus Teacher” is a timely reminder of humanity

A review on the Oscar-shortlisted Netflix nature documentary

Filmmaker Craig Foster’s bond with an octopus is thought-provoking. Photo courtesy of Netflix

By: Tiffany Chang, Peak Associate

I have always found nature documentaries quite fascinating. From seeing how animals survive in their natural habitats to seismic environmental changes, they provide viewers with insightful information about the planet we live on. The Netflix documentary My Octopus Teacher (2020) does this and more.

My Octopus Teacher tells the incredible story of a filmmaker who strikes an unlikely friendship with an octopus while staying in South Africa. Aside from this, what makes the documentary stand out is that it demonstrates how observing other living beings can change your perspective on life itself. Living in an unprecedented COVID-19 era, this changing of perspective has become more prevalent now than ever because we’re taking time to appreciate the important things in our lives, especially our health and well-being, and that of our loved ones too. 

This article sheds light on the documentary’s most profound moments, showcasing its overarching theme regarding life appreciation and preservation. 

05:00: Craig Foster describes a difficult time in his life, when he felt burnt out while working on a film. It took a toll on him, to the extent that he completely lost interest in the filmmaking process. I think viewers can relate to the high-stress levels Foster describes.

09:51: We are shown close-ups of beautiful sea creatures. Being amongst them drastically improves Foster’s mental state. Here, seeing a colourful underwater landscape full of activity, yet peaceful at the same time, the viewers understand how and why he is reinvigorated and ready to rediscover his passion for filming. 

14:39: When encountering an intriguing female octopus who initially is afraid of him, Foster establishes a goal to visit her den every day, because he has an inkling that he is destined to understand more about her. This goal marks the beginning of a routine that, unbeknownst to him, has potential to lead to an extraordinary feat.  

18:58: After 26 days, the octopus willingly comes into physical contact with Foster, indicating how consistency and optimism can go a long way in achieving a goal.

30:15: She grabs onto his hand and holds on. This trust develops into a full-fledged friendship. The octopus is then shown following Foster as he swims, enjoying his company. She even, at certain points, cuddles up to him.  

43:43: The octopus is attacked by sharks. This anguishes Foster. Although she survives, her being attacked makes him think about mortality and his family. Foster’s reflection implies that he’s gained a new outlook on life: it should be lived to the fullest.

47:26: Meeting this octopus has altered Foster’s relationships with people. He comes to the realization that humans are more similar to wildlife than we imagine, like when he notices the octopus having child-like fun playing with a school of fish, finding joy amidst enduring an overall tough existence.

1:21:15: Following her death, Foster tells viewers that as you spend time in the wild, you understand the importance each life form, large and small, holds. As he makes this statement, the film plays footage showing various aquatic animals navigating inevitable challenges presented by mother nature. Foster forms an even closer bond with the underwater world and is seen handling other species, such as squid. As a viewer, this evokes a stronger sense of connection to the sea creatures. 

1:22:43: As the documentary concludes, Foster reflects on his special experience with the octopus and months spent conducting thorough explorations in the deep waters. Foster’s work shows that our diversity of species is what makes earth a thriving, stunning, and amazingly dynamic planet. All organisms play their distinct part in the world, so we should appreciate and cherish their place in it. 

My Octopus Teacher has this calming effect that I have never come across before when watching a nature documentary. I felt so relaxed as I watched it and was touched by Craig Foster’s dedication to the octopus as well as his desire to understand her kind. If you’re looking for a uniquely entertaining, but also eye-opening film to watch, I highly recommend My Octopus Teacher.