Movie Review – My Octopus Teacher (Mini Review)

Principal Cast : Craig Foster, Tom Foster.
Synopsis: 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.


The inexplicable recipient of the Best Documentary Feature Oscar for 2020, Netflix’ My Octopus Teacher is a fantastic humblebrag opportunity for snorkel-diver Craig Foster and a well photographed film, but even at 85 minutes it’s around 60 minutes too long. A short film stretched beyond its own capacity, this documentary wafts along with Foster’s esoteric summation of human emotion serving as the backdrop for a remarkably evocative natural wonder – a man befriends a short-lived octopus in the oceanic kelp forest just outside his front door, and documents her struggle for survival against the various seagoing dangers – but there’s not enough wonder here to satisfy a full length movie. The wonderful drone footage, coupled with the beneath-the-waves filmmaking by Foster himself as he documents his year with this tiny, beautiful (and largely misunderstood) creature pretends to be far more cerebral and diffuse than it needs to be; guys, we just wanna see the octopus, okay? We don’t need twenty minutes of Foster’s seemingly endless attempts to correlate this to his own family’s struggles or some bigger picture.

Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up on the prestige documentary films of David Attenborough and the BBC that I’ve been so spoiled for natural world experiences, that I found My Octopus Teacher to be quite the laboured effort indeed. Slowly paced – far too slow for a doco about an octopus and the man who films it – and filled with anthropomorphising that’s as clumsily inappropriate as it is try-hard, the film positively sparkles when the focus is on the titular eight-legged cephalopod, but grinds to a halt whenever Foster and his breathless voiceover narration take hold. The intimate nature of the relationship between Foster and his film’s focus is intriguing but there’s an off-putting skew to the movie I couldn’t quite work out until the end; Foster uses his relationship with the octopus as a life-affirming swivel to that between he and his own son (poor kid, any of his chums watching this will cringe mightily!) and at this point the film crumbles. I admit, I did tear up at the end, but that had nothing to do with the human beings in it; largely obnoxious, My Octopus Teacher is a moderately interesting nature story that spends far too long getting to the point, even longer making its point when it gets there, and could have afforded to lose forty or fifty minutes of waffle in the middle.

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