My Octopus Teacher

Even after a few hours of watching this captivating, authentic, and incredible documentary showing a bond between a human and an octopus, I could not stop thinking about it. I kept thinking about the octopus, its tentacles, sorry, its arms, for that is what we are supposed to call them, arms, and not tentacles, the way it moved, the way it camouflaged, and everything about it.

Whether I’m stressed or exhausted or feeling low, I always prefer to go to the beach. I love sitting on the shore, soaking in the sound of the waves, the wind, and the whole experience of being there. It is rejuvenating at the least. It is no surprise that the documentarian Craig Foster did the same when he hit the South African coast, Cape of Storms, and plunged into the freezing waters and dense kelp forests to witness a profound life-changing experience – he met an octopus during one of his dives and built a bond with it.

During the entirety of this documentary, footage of his encounters with the octopus is beautifully edited with a sort of commentary from Craig who explains what he felt during those moments and how it changed him as a person. It begins with him explaining on how he came back to the coast, began free diving and how over a period, the human body gets adjusted to the freezing temperature of the cold waters. You begin to think if one can ever do that and at times, it is simply fascinating to see the powers of a human body.

Craig, during one of his dives, comes across a small female octopus in its den under some rocks in the middle of the kelp forest. Initially it is very cautious of interacting with him wondering if he is predatorial or not. As it gets comfortable around his presence, it begins to go about its normal day. One of the best parts of the documentary was when Craig and the octopus make the first contact. It was just fascinating to watch how the eight limbed marine animal feels him with its arms.

Shot over a period of roughly a year, Craig documented all his encounters from the initial days of caution to latter days of close emotional bond between the two. Even as the octopus begins to grow and experience its surroundings and more so intelligently surviving the Pyjama Sharks, yes that is what they are called as they have stripes all over their body. There is one part where the octopus manages to escape an attack and piggy backs the shark. It was enthralling to watch it.

Octopus have a very short lifespan, usually a year while some live to two. We get to know a lot more about these interesting creatures even as we learn more about the bigger organism – marine life itself. The whole ecosystem is unravelled in bits and pieces by which towards the end you as a viewed get an idea of how the world under water thrives. At one point when the octopus is hurt by one of the attacks, Craig out of his emotional attachment to the creature goes onto help feed it. To his surprise, it does not work. This is when he realizes that marine life has its own rules and way of being and no outer intervention helps in general.

There are way too many life lessons that one can derive from this documentary, although that might not have been the original intent of this in the first place. Or may be I’m getting philosophical right now. Nevertheless, what stood out are few basic facts of life – appreciate the world that we live in, contribute for its betterment, love for the nature and everthing that is part of it and how we are always cautious around new beings, take our time to get to know each other, with constant efforts, we nourish and build the relationships and at the end of it, we grow out to be better individuals.

Even while the story unfolds, what makes the viewing an unforgettable experience is how Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed, the directors along with Roger Horrocks, the underwater cinematographer have shot the whole thing. Music by Kevin Smuts is equally engaging.

Available on Netflix from 7 September 2020

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