My Octopus Teacher, Netflix’s new documentary, captures an unlikely year-long interaction between man and octopus. Implored by my mom to watch it, I thought I was in for a cheesy movie with cliched lessons learned from an octopus. But My Octopus Teacher is so much more—it’s the perfect combination of scientific discovery and a love story.
Craig Foster, a renowned South-African filmmaker most known for his work in The Great Dance: A Hunter’s Story, spent his childhood in what he called “the force of [the] giant Atlantic Ocean”—the tip of South Africa known as the Cape of Storms. As an adult experiencing depression and a lost sense of purpose, Foster decides to return to his roots.
For an entire year, Foster braves the icy cold Atlantic, and without a wet suit or scuba gear. On his first day diving through the kelp forest, Foster comes across a strange object covered in shells—even the surrounding fish are perplexed. Suddenly, the shells fall and uncover the object of wonderment: an octopus.
Foster becomes fascinated and continues to visit the kelp forest every day in hopes of learning more about the creature.
Throughout the movie, you will learn about the octopus’s remarkable defense mechanisms against her predator, Pyjama Sharks. She is able to camouflage into her surroundings (match her color to surrounding rocks, cover herself with shells, mimic the movement of a leaf drifting across the ocean floor), squeeze herself into the smallest caves, climb out of the water, and even outwit a shark by finding safety on its back.
If this doesn’t highlight the octopus’s intelligence enough, the documentary also showcases her evolving predatory habits, becoming more advanced and efficient as she learns from her mistakes.
As you learn about the octopus through Foster’s curiosity, the octopus as well develops a curiosity towards the man, bonding the two together. When Foster leaves his camera outside of her den hoping for a reaction, she becomes intrigued by the new object and begins touching the lens with her tentacles. As with the camera, the octopus comes to realize that Foster is not a threat and allows him to follow her on her day-to-day outings. Foster describes this established trust as the reason he was able to see scientific discovery unfold in the way it did.
But the defining moment of the movie, the one that turns the scientific documentary into a love story, is when the octopus reaches out her tentacle to touch Foster’s finger. The relationship eventually progresses from hand-holding to hugging when the octopus suddenly swims up and grabs hold of Foster’s chest, a truly moving moment.
My Octopus Teacher is a must-watch movie. It may warm your heart watching an unlikely bond between man and mollusk form, but at the very least, you will learn more about the remarkable intelligence of octopi.