‘My Octopus Teacher’

The Netflix original documentary “My Octopus Teacher” gives exactly the kind of unexpected perspective we need after 2020. The 90-minute film has been nominated for Best Documentary at the 93rd annual Academy Awards and has won eight other honors already.

“A lot of people say that an octopus is like an alien. But the strange thing is, as you get closer to them, you realize that we’re very similar in a lot of ways,” Craig Foster says in the opening minutes of this documentary.

Foster, a South African documentary filmmaker and naturalist, began free diving in a South African kelp forest in 2010. With no oxygen tank and no wetsuit, Foster vowed to spend every single day in the forest for one whole year. He had been struggling to see his purpose in life and was hoping to find his passion again.

“Day after day, I slowly started to get my energy back and realized that there was this whole new way of looking at this underwater forest. And I started to come alive again,” Foster says in the documentary.

While diving one day, Foster happens upon a wild common octopus residing in a den beneath the surface. The remainder of the film depicts how an extraordinarily unusual relationship develops between Foster and the octopus he will come to visit each day.

Watching this incredible story unfold can bring out many different emotions and feelings. Some portions of the documentary were calming, like watching the octopus effortlessly glide through the ocean while getting to see its incredibly diverse habitat. At other times, I feared this exotic creature would be torn to shreds by the numerous pyjama sharks surrounding her.

Although Foster claims to have never been overly emotional toward animals, this octopus had a major effect on him.

“What she taught me was to feel. That you’re part of this place, not a visitor. That’s a huge difference.”

That’s a lesson that I think we can all take from the film, whether you have interest in cephalopods or not. This is a story of hope, of connection between human beings and the world they live in. It is easy to get caught up in the mundane “have to do” tasks of everyday life. This film allows you to slow down, see the beauty that often goes unnoticed, and connect with an incredible animal.