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.