Common Octopus, Uncommon Story

My Octopus Teacher is available on Netflix

I was not avoiding it, exactly, but by night time my attention span diminishes. From a reluctant start at 7:30pm yesterday, assuming I would fall asleep less than half way through, my absorption became total from the first minute and remained so until the end. It was a compelling conclusion to a very long day. Film reviews rarely appear here, but New Scientist gives me good reason to share more than my own opinion:

My Octopus Teacher review: The strange lives of cephalopods up close

In many ways, the octopus is a tough proposition: a soft-bodied mollusc that carries the bulk of its brain in its arms, that can render itself solid without a skeleton or liquid despite its beak, that evolved separately from nearly every other organism on Earth. That otherness is at the heart of our fascination with octopuses: can we even aspire to understand something so foreign? A new Netflix documentary, My Octopus Teacher, follows one man’s attempt.

Wanting to reconnect with nature after burning out with work, film-maker and naturalist Craig Foster starts freediving daily in the undersea kelp forests off Cape Town. One day, he comes across an odd jumble of shells on the sea floor. It transpires to be a common octopus, hiding in plain sight. Viewers of the BBC’s Blue Planet 2 may recognise the footage. The octopus and its protective “shell suit” featured in the “Green Seas” episode, explained by David Attenborough as never-before-seen behaviour.

Foster collaborated on shooting the sequence with his friend, Blue Planet 2 cameraman Roger Horrocks. The pair have spent many years documenting South Africa’s kelp forests (more recently, as part of the non-profit Sea Change Project) and are listed as joint directors of photography on My Octopus Teacher. But that back story is omitted in favour of a close crop on Foster’s personal relationship with the octopus, and what he learns on his daily visits to her world…

Read the whole review here.

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