It took some time for me to get interested in watching Netflix documentary film “My Octopus Teacher”, which somehow eluded me when it was released on Netflix in last September. Although I have often heard words of recommendation from others during last several months, I thought it was just a minor nature documentary I can watch at any time in no hurry, and I must confess here that it finally came to draw my interest a lot more than before when it got included the shortlist for Best Documentary Oscar and then eventually nominated a few weeks ago.
Having watched it in 4K UHD, I can now assure you that the documentary, directed by Ehrlich and James Reed, is certainly something you should watch in HD or 4K UHD for appreciating those gorgeous moments. As its hero, a South African filmmaker named Craig Foster, slowly swims here and there inside a big underwater kelp forest located not so far from his family residence, we cannot help but awed as beholding the majestic wonder of nature, and we are also touched at times while following his modest but sincere chronicle of small but meaningful encounters between him and a wild creature he came to know and observe during a short period of time.
In the beginning, Foster phlegmatically tells us about when he found himself mentally exhausted a lot some years ago. After deciding that he really needed to take a rest, he immediately went back to his family beach house located in a remote beach area near Cape Town, South Africa, and we hear about how his family beach house is often splashed with clashing waves whenever the weather gets windy or stormy. This may not look like an ideal place for rest, but Foster felt a lot better than before as finally having his own private time there.
As days went by, Foster began free-diving in that underwater kelp forest, and he soon came to spend hours there everyday. Although the water is pretty cold, its low temperature made his mind more acute and sensitive to the underwater environment surrounding him, and he later brought a video camera for vividly capturing its awe and beauty. As he often felt soothed by its mostly serene mood, the underwater kelp forest frequently showed him its numerous various residents living here and there, and a series of brief video footage clips reflect well how ecologically beautiful and bountiful it really is.
And then something odd drew Foster’s attention on one day. On the surface, it simply looked like a heap of shells somehow stacked together in the middle of the ground, but, what do you know, this turned out to be a clever disguise of one female common octopus, a.k.a. Octopus vulgaris. Not long after this brief encounter between them, Foster encountered this common octopus again, and he became more curious about it even though it did not look that special at all. He immediately started to study on common octopus, and he also tried to draw more attention from this common octopus after finding its little habitat located somewhere inside the underwater kelp forest.
Although it was understandably cautious to Foster’s tentative approach in the beginning, the octopus became less watchful as getting more accustomed to Foster’s presence, and Foster was certainly delighted when the octopus was casually moving around him after coming out of its habitat at last. As observing more of his new friend, Foster was marveled more about what a remarkable species common octopus is in many aspects, and his new friend constantly amazed and amused him everyday.
However, Foster was also reminded of the harsh and ruthless sides of mother nature – especially when he was watching how his new friend ate and survived day by day. To many different marine animals ranging from small fishes to crabs, common octopus is surely a predator to fear, but it is also a prey to be attacked and then eaten by pajama sharks at any point, and Foster still remembers well a horrific moment when the octopus was savagely attacked by one pajama shark. As a result, it got one of its legs eaten by that pajama shark, and Foster was deeply hurt by this dismal sight.
Fortunately, the octopus went through a peaceful recuperation period with its lost leg being regenerated bit by bit during next several days, and this was also a sort of healing process for Foster, who subsequently became more active with his life and his dear family. He tried to reconnect with his family again, and it is touching to see him showing his adolescent son what he has seen alone for many days.
The octopus surely meant a lot for Foster, but the documentary wisely does not try to delve into what it exactly felt and thought about its human friend. “Men and animals regard each other across a gulf of mutual incomprehension.”, said W.G. Sebald, and the documentary firmly stays from any cheap sentimentality when Foster bitterly observes his friend fatefully arriving at an inevitable point shortly after doing what it is genetically programmed to do right from the beginning.
Overall, “My Octopus Teacher” an appealing nature documentary mixed with heartfelt personal elements, and you may find yourself musing more on life as well as our relationships with nature, Although it feels rather plain compared to its fellow Oscar nominees including “Collective” (2019) and “Time” (2020), it is still a fairly good piece of work, and I recommend you to check it out if you have some free time for yourself.