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Finding life in a cold-water companion

Review of My Octopus Teacher, directed by Craig Foster.

When South African documentary filmmaker Craig Foster fell into a personal Slough of Despond, he came close to drowning emotionally and mentally. Netflix’s 85-minute My Octopus Teacher records his year-long recovery with daily baptisms in the eight-degree Centigrade sea off Cape Town. There he discovered he was not alone. As baptism declares, he died to his solipsistic self, rediscovering life with his son, if not fully with his wife.

Wearing swimming trunks, equipped only with fins, mask, snorkel and an unseen cameraperson, Foster cleanses his naked spirit in these daily 20-minute dives into a protected kelp forest. There an octopus – anthropomorphically or in an imaginative mollusk-human bond – pulls Foster out of his deep funk. Calling the octopus “she” throughout, Foster follows her brief year-long life, during which she loses an arm in a shark attack, though it soon regenerates.

Did she actually come to know Foster in some way? Foster’s images argue that convincingly, with one scene showing her clasping his hand with her tentacles.

Though critics panned it as lightweight, My Octopus won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. I’ve watched it twice, might do a third. Enough heavyweight COVID drama already. Let My Octopus wrap its arms around our hearts, reminding us that the oddest of God’s creatures reflect divine creativity and mysterious love.


Jim Dekker loves snorkeling, but craves tropical waters.

  • Jim is a semi-retired Christian Reformed pastor and missionary who now works for Resonate Global Mission ten hours a week as "Member Care Coordinator," which means "Pastor to Missionaries," because where lots of our missionaries work it's inadvisable to use pastor or missionary publicly. That cool job puts a framework to his week, keeps him in contact with hundreds of even cooler servants of Jesus all over the world, compels him to travel to visit them once in a while, though he connects with them via email and Zoom most of the time. The rest of the time Jim reads books--lots of free ones that he "pays for" with reviews. He was acclaimed President of Christian Courier Board of Directors while on his way to that meeting from a long ophthalmologist appointment. As long as God gives his wife Rose and him health, they ride a tandem bike around Niagara and other places in the bikeable months, paddle canoes and kayaks, visit children and grandchildren in the distant places they live because their parents provided them poor role models for stability of residence.

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