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Netflix Review: My Octopus Teacher

April 23, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

2021 Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary Feature

Among this year’s many Oscar nominees from the streaming giant Netflix is My Octopus Teacher, a surprisingly touching nature documentary that captures the unexpected friendship between a scuba diver and an octopus, from captivating beginning to poignant end.

The film centres around South African documentary filmmaker Craig Foster, who began free-diving in a remote kelp forest near Cape Town in 2010, where he noticed a wild common octopus using shells to disguise herself from predators. Foster decided to visit the creature every day for an entire year, which is what is documented in the film.

The octopus initially views him and his camera equipment with curiosity, tentatively exploring it at first, before slowly becoming comfortable enough to come over for visits and even interact with him. Foster observes how she camouflages in her surroundings, finds food to eat, and avoids predators, including pyjama sharks (so named for their grey stripes) that want to eat her.

Assembled by the directing team of Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed, the main draw of My Octopus Teacher is the excellent underwater cinematography, which was shot by Foster and cameraman Roger Horrocks. We see magical footage of the world below, and there is a relaxing, almost hypnotic feel to much of it, punctuated by a few moments of tension as the octopus has close calls with predators.

The film unfolds primarily through Foster’s underwater footage, which he also narrates, reflecting on the experience of visiting this octopus and what he learned from a year of diving in this kelp forest. He talks candidly about how his friendship with the creature impacted him on a personal level. Because the lifespan of a wild common octopus is only about two years, Foster also has to come to terms with the mortality of his new friend, which adds genuine poignancy to the last act.

Foster went on to found the Sea Change Project in 2012 to help protect kelp forests, which he touches upon at the end of the film. Yes, My Octopus Teacher might feel a bit slight compared to some of the other documentary feature nominees, and it can come across more like a nature special. But it’s still a very enjoyable and educational documentary that also has a surprising emotional impact. Through the film, this little octopus ends up teaching us stuff as well.

My Octopus Teacher is now available to stream exclusively on Netflix.

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