My Octopus Teacher

is a film for this moment

Directed by James Reed and Pippa Ehrlich
(US, 2020)

Review by Angus Luff

My Octopus Teacher is a documentary film released last September on Netflix, directed by James Reed and Pippa Ehrlich. It follows Craig Foster, a filmmaker and founder of the Sea Change Project, as he dives in the Cape Point reef. He comes in contact with an octopus, and they form a remarkable trust and bond.

My Octopus Teacher is a beautiful story about trust and curiosity, about someone or something different than yourself. It’s a film we need at this moment. With all the loss and hopelessness in this world, a film about hope is what we need to pull us through. It is wonderfully filmed as well, with so many awe-inspiring and truly captivating shots that pull you into a majestic world.

While it is a documentary, there are moments that feel almost scripted. Sometimes you can’t really believe what is happening, and I’m not just talking about how long Foster can hold his breath underwater. When he first spots the octopus, it swiftly swims away, just like any other “unlikely relationship” movie. They begin to form a bond which is also unbelievable in terms of how perfectly it plays out, as if it were scripted. It adds to the majesty when you realize it’s real.

The film is only 85 minutes long so it’s not a big commitment, but I did find myself beginning to grasp the pattern of it. It goes like this: Foster swim’s down to meet the octopus, something beautiful happens and then there’s an interview portion where he reviews his feelings. When you see the formula, you begin to understand where it is heading, making it slightly predictable. Unfortunately, that takes away some of the emotion and power for me.

I still think My Octopus Teacher is quite an achievement. It’s awe-inspiring, powerful and heart-breaking near the end. The emotion doesn’t work as well once you know where it’s going, but it has enough going for it. Does it deserve its Oscar nomination for best documentary? I’d say probably. I don’t think it’s a good as another nominee, the Netflix documentary, Crip Camp, but they’re so different, you can’t really compare them.

My Octopus Teacher is a film I’d recommend. It has problems, but it’s worth it in the end.

Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Available on Netflix.

Angus Luff is a student at Glebe Collegiate. He grew up in the Glebe and is obsessed with movies.

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