Recommended film: “My Octopus Teacher”

July 25, 2021 • 1:30 pm

When I was getting my teeth cleaned the other day, my hygienist Maria and I were talking about travel and biology, both of which she likes, and she recommended a movie I hadn’t heard of: “My Octopus Teacher“. She couldn’t say enough good things about the movie, so I investigated it. I found out that it was a Netflix film made in 2020, won the Oscar that year for the Best Documentary Feature, and had a high critics’ rating of 95% on Rotten Tomatoes (91% critics rating).  And it was about a man forging a relationship with an octopus. How could I not watch it?

I did, and I was entranced. It is a fantastic film, and you really must watch it.

The story is simple: South African filmmaker Craig Foster, burned out from work, unable to relate to his family, seeks peace in getting away from everyone, snorkeling in the local kelp forest. There he finds a female common octopus (Octopus vulgaris), and, after days and weeks of effort, befriends her. Not interfering in her life, he simply visits her every day for over 300 days, marveling at her intelligence and adaptations, living through her travails. The experience is bittersweet because he knows that her lifespan is about a year, and he’s with her to the end.

What did the octopus teach him? I’ll leave you to watch the film to see the marvelous ending that sums up what he learned. I have to say, though, that I’ve formed a similar bond with my ducks, seeing them several times a day from when the day they hatch until they leave the pond in the fall. When you spend hours and days with an animal, you learn a lot about them, and it does change you.

Here’s the trailer. SEE THE MOVIE!

19 thoughts on “Recommended film: “My Octopus Teacher”

  1. Our family watched this shortly after it aired. It is very captivating and is worthy of the Oscar. I agree with Jerry, you should watch it.

  2. My Octopus Teacher brought tears to my eyes—incredibly moving, and thought-provoking in just the right way. It haunted me for days after; a couple of months later, it’s still sort of doing that.

  3. Thanks for the tip. Got it cued up on my Netflix queue to watch tonight.

    Speaking of films featuring a bond between a human and an animal, I just got back from seeing Pig, a feature by first-time director Michael Sarnoski starring Nicolas Cage. (I know there are some Cage-haters around here — and sometimes I’m one of ’em — but he’s excellent, and very un-Cage-like, in this one. The whole film is first-rate.)

      1. Yeah, I’d agree. I found it interesting that the closing credits identified not only the pig, but a second pig who’d been its “understudy.” 🙂

  4. We’ve mentioned this movie a couple times, but its easy to overlook. One needs a hankie. But in a good way.
    I do wonder how it was filmed, since you have the main human diver and oft-times a separate camera (run by a second diver?). Its all true to life, in that what you see is what octopi actually do.

    1. I wondered about this too… I take it he had the footage from the interactions with his ‘friend’ when the actual dives, drama took place, he is a cameraman… some time later a second cam shot all the cutaways, interviews, aerial shots, fillers to put the story together.
      But I’m just guessing.

  5. Sounds like a great movie. I agree with Prof. Coyne’s points about relationships with nonhumans.
    Once I realized that creatures like octopi are sentient and desire to free of harm, I awoke from my “ethical slumber” as Prof. Sherry Colb puts it, and became vegan.
    As Dr. Michael Greger said: “The most ethical diet just so happens to be the most environmentally sound diet, and just so happens to be the healthiest.”

  6. Recommended reading: Sy Montgomery’s “The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness”

  7. Another recommended reading: Peter Godfrey-Smith’s “Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life”

  8. I have just watched this spell-binding documentary. Wow!! It’s so touching at times overwhelmingly emotional. What beautiful photography and editing. This must be one of the greatest stories ever told. Thank you Jerry, and your hygienist, for alerting us to watch this exhilarating film.

  9. It was a big thing here in SA: A South African film winning an Oscar for best documentary. It is still on my ‘bucket list’.

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