The Octopus Teacher: A Review

By Lauren Edwards

I must admit that I struggle to watch an Attenborough nature documentary. I’m not against our national treasure, he is indeed a very watchable orator and he can make the most insignificant insect sound fascinating. My problem is how traumatic I find his nature events and his portrayal of the fine line between life and death for many of our world’s wildlife. They are often a tough watch and I never know who to root for when, for example, the polar bear needs to eat the seal to feed her hungry cubs, but the seal is just so helpless lolling about on an iceberg that I just find myself shouting at the cameraman to ‘intervene’.

So, when the trailer for the new nature documentary The Octopus Teacher popped up on my Netflix, I was reluctant to give it a go at first. For those that are unfamiliar, The Octopus Teacher is not a spinoff from Finding Nemo but a heartfelt and strangely engaging story of a filmmaker forming a friendship with a wild octopus in the South African ocean.

It is a unique documentary and apparently is the reason why Richard Branson has given up eating squid. The narrator, Craig Foster, talks us through his journey in his melancholy way, of how he met and forged a connection with this lady octopus. He dives daily into the kelp forests of the ocean next to his home, seemingly able to swim underwater for hours without air, when he first claps eyes on the unnamed mollusc. I was disappointed that he didn’t name her. I mean he hangs out with her every day for over a year and is pretty stalker-ish, so not to personalise her existence was a shame.

Over a period of weeks, the octopus begins to trust him and literally reaches out a tentacle as if to hold hands with him. She is a fascinating creature; chameleon like with her ability to morph into any colour or shape to escape her predators. At one point, she covers herself in shells and walks (yes really) along the seabed like a wobbly pearly queen on her way home from the pub, happy for Foster to follow her.

Her trust of Foster is remarkable and at one point she climbs right up onto his chest and suctions herself there like a strange kind of brooch. However, as their relationship becomes close, the feeling of dread starts to creep in as the sharks start circling her den more frequently. It is weird that Foster is happy for the octopus to catch a ride on his back when they are just larking about, but when there is any real peril surrounding her, he refuses to get involved stating that it’s nature and it wouldn’t be right. This is a fair point but hardly think it’s natural for him to high five her on a daily basis!

It is a beautifully filmed documentary and the footage of the octopus going about her everyday tasks of hunting crabs, hiding from sharks, and shapeshifting into whatever she lands on is truly absorbing. Foster is rather morose and monotone and there is perhaps too much piece to camera action from him from inside is home, where he describes his journey with the octopus and how it has helped him deal with depression. I would rather have seen more of her to be honest, but it is all relevant.

The documentary was nail biting to the end, and I will spare you any spoilers, but suffice to say that my earlier observation about nature documentaries leaving me bereft upholds here! It is a must see in my opinion. Well worth sitting down with the kids to help them learn about the forgotten world within our oceans. Foster is no Attenborough, but he deserves credit for opening our eyes to the possibilities of the ocean, to learn to respect the sea life that exists within and to show us how incredible the humble octopus can be.

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