A new documentary takes the viewer on an exquisite underwater adventure with one of biology’s strangest creationsby Lucinda Smyth / October 9, 2020 / Leave a comment
It’s become a cliché in 2020 to lament the current state of the world—specifically, to remind everyone what a bad year we’re having. These reminders often feel unnecessary, brow-beaten and exhausting, like the small-talk we’d have with neighbours during the final days of “clap for carers.” But that doesn’t make them less true. The fact is, 2020 has been a bad, bad year, and as it winds to a close it’s not getting better. Coronavirus deaths have passed one million and a second wave is about to crash over Europe. Politicians have been limp and disordered in their efforts to prevent it. Climate change continues to accelerate and the Amazon is burning. The less said about the US election, the better. What, if anything, can raise our spirits at this relentlessly depressing time? What might help flatten the curve of our collective anxiety spiral? An answer that lies in pop culture has to be taken with an entire bucket of salt. But on a small, 90-minute scale, one rebuff might be found under the waves and on our screens. Enter the octopus.
Craig Foster’s documentary My Octopus Teacher (Netflix, out now) is a big-hearted, many-tentacled story which swims into focus at a perfect time. Filmed in the Western Cape over the course of a year, it describes the real-life friendship between a diver and a wild octopus. The film has all the ingredients for a dose of lockdown escapism. Stunning panoramas of the South African coast provide an antidote to grey-sky staycations. Underwater close-ups, poetic narration and a watery soundscape create an atmosphere of meditation and connection. (“You just have to relax, and then you get this beautiful window of about 10 to 15 minutes,” says Foster of diving. “Then your whole body comes alive, and as it adapts, it becomes easier… You fly, basically.”) And at the centre of the film is a heart-warming love-story: depressed man befriends clever cephalopod. In a world which seems bereft of empathy and understanding, stories like this provide hope. There are other species out there with a braincell left. They don’t always hate us. We haven’t ruined everything, not yet.
My Octopus Teacher begins with the backstory of Foster, whose passion for nature was inspired by his childhood by the sea and observing animal trackers in the central Kalahari. He talks—more relatably—about the pressures…