If you've listened to Spittin' Chiclets anytime in the last several weeks, you've heard me singing the praises of one of this year's Best Documentary nominees, MY OCTOPUS TEACHER. If you follow me on Twitter, then you've surely seen me RTing props for the movie from our listeners who watched it. And if you see the title MY OCTOPUS TEACHER and say "wut", welcome to the club.
That was my reaction when I first came across it. The description made me a bit intrigued: a filmmaker forges an unusual friendship with an octopus living in a South African kelp forest, learning as the animal shares the mysteries of her world. But it was the visual component that roped me in. Just from the trailer you could tell the underwater cinematography was absolutely gorgeous and, I figured, even if it's boring it'll be great to look at.
I was anything but bored. Instead I was enthralled by a suprisingly emotional story about a guy burned out from work and life who ventures into the sea and, against all odds of nature, becomes undersea pals with an octopus. It's the most entertained I've been by a man/sea creature storyline since the "A Fish Called Selma" episode of "The Simpsons" back in Season 7.
South African Craig Foster, a documentarian and filmmaker, started snorkeling in the local kelp forest to unwind and bond with nature but instead got the urge to film again and took notice of a small female common octopus. In due time, Foster becomes admittedly obsessed with the brilliant cephalopod and goes into the 50°-ish water every day to hopefully spend time with the animal. Soon enough, the octopus is comfortable enough around Foster and recognizes him to the degree that she reaches out with one of her tentacles to him before climbing fully onto his hand/arm. It's a stunning shot to see an animal that normally and naturally flees humans to embracing one and creating an inter-species bond that comes through the screen.
Foster speaks glowingly if not lovingly about his new underwater chap in a way that reminded me of Lois Lane's 'Can you read my mind?' speech in SUPERMAN. Which is probably appropriate considering the alien-like features and functions of the octopus. We see great footage of the mollusk utilizing camouflage to both hunt and hide. The octopus is also capable of sprouting 'horns' to look more intimidating than it actually is. It's shape and physical make-up allow it slide into and out of the thinnest of crevices to elude its main predator, the pajama shark. The 'speedy kleptomaniac' style of hunting it does with its tentacles is wild to watch. It truly is an amazing animal to watch in action.
If you ever you have a brief encounter with an animal in its natural environment like Brother Nature, then you know just how trippy it is to do so underwater with an octopus. Foster's interactions with the octopus over the span of 324 days provide him with a fresh perspective and inspiration. They also serve as a reminder to viewers that we share this place with a bounty of wondrous creatures that we can actually have something in common with, despite different living surfaces.
MY OCTOPUS TEACHER is up for the Best Documentary Oscar at this Sunday's Academy Awards and currently streaming on Netflix.