Netflix’s My Octopus Teacher: an immersive underwater experience

As someone who loves thrilling documentaries like Free Solo, as well as nature films such as Netflix’s Blackfish, my anticipation grew as Netflix announced the September 4, 2020, release date of My Octopus Teacher, a combination of the two. An emotional tale of an unusual relationship between man and octopus, My Octopus Teacher offers a beautiful look into life underwater and excited my knowledge and love for the ocean. Because it was a relatively short watch of 1 hour and 25 minutes, I marveled with no interruptions, start to finish. 

Directors James Reed and Pippa Ehrlich document the experience of Craig Foster, a South African filmmaker, wildlife expert, and founder of the “Sea Change Project,” off the coast of South Africa’s Western Cape over a span of 324 days, as he forges a relationship with a female octopus. 

My lack of knowledge about the octopus species struck me instantly in the opening of the movie. What I didn’t realize about the octopus was, for lack of a better word, how cool they are. They are incredibly smart and are such immensely complex creatures physically and mentally, all of which I would never have known without watching this film. In focusing on this specific sea creature and the details of her existence, the film opened my eyes to the intricacy of life and evolution both in and out of the water. 

Viewers watch the countless thrilling and majestic encounters between Foster and the octopus, from the time they first meet, until death, a period that is the majority of her life cycle. Even though the cinematography was quite simple — underwater footage and interviews with Foster — Reed, Ehrlich, and Foster did an incredible job in capturing the colorful, lively, and utterly stunning nature of South Africa’s kelp forest — dense underwater regions of kelp, essentially thicker and longer seaweed — and coral reefs. Even though here in Boston it is the dead middle of winter, watching this movie on the big screen made me crave summer and travel and the inviting, clear blue waters of the ocean that come with them.

What makes this movie so special is that you do not simply watch this emotional journey but begin to feel a part of it as well. As Foster guides you through these exquisite encounters in South Africa’s lush kelp forest, you start to feel the amazement of Foster through the screen. Additionally, the remarkable cinematography and Foster’s soothing narration moved me to feel more and more vulnerable as the documentary progressed. I felt every emotion so intensely, ranging from awe to excitement, and finally, to sorrow. My Octopus Teacher taught me the important lesson of recognizing the fragility and intricacy of life, but also allowed me to delve deeper into a species humans, myself included, know so little about.

If you are looking for a movie to simultaneously excite your interest in the ocean and make you cry, My Octopus Teacher is just the movie for you. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it to all my documentary and nature lovers.

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