2021 Oscar Reviews: My Octopus Teacher

For the past several years, I’ve attempted to watch as many Oscar-nominated films as possible, and for the past two years I have written reviews of each film and posted them to this blog. Alas, I always run out of time and cannot see everything. This year’ ceremony has been delayed, and I started reviewing before nominations were announced, giving me a decent chance at wide coverage. Today we cover…

My Octopus Teacher

[1 nomination for Best Documentary Feature]

How this movie isn’t nominated for Best Cinematography, I have no idea. The images captured by the filmmakers are absolutely awe-inspiring. For real, every single shot is a frameable work of art. Maybe there’s some rule about documentaries not counting? Who knows. Anyway…

This film is legit incredible. It’s a nature documentary unlike any I’ve ever seen before. We’re not just watching nature; we’re connecting to nature on a very real level via our protagonist, free diver and filmmaker Craig Foster. After going through some sort of personal shit that we never quite get explained to us, Foster returns to his childhood roots on the South African coast and starts regularly freediving in a kelp forest as a sort of therapy. I had the amazing opportunity in 2019 to snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef, and it was honestly one of the most incredible experiences of my entire life. The wildlife on display down there was unlike anything I’d ever seen. Well, this movie make the GBR seem boring. There is so much crazy stuff down there! And the footage captured this all with such lush crisp color that, if this had been the whole film, it already would have been great. In fact, some of the footage from these dives made it into Blue Planet II.

But that’s not that the movie is about. The movie is about an octopus. Dudes… I had no clue that octopuses (I had to google the right plural here) are so interesting!!! This diver notices some really weird behavior from this octopus, and he ends up actually establishing a friendship with it by building trust over time. Does this sound nuts? That’s because IT IS TOTALLY NUTS! And yet it is totally real! Foster is, frankly, a total weirdo. I mean, who obsesses over an octopus like this? But he’s a good kind of weirdo. His therapeutic obsession, as odd as it is, brings us into this incredible world that no human has likely entered before. Along the way, Foster’s relationship with the octopus ends up affecting him on a very personal level. He starts to find a love for life again, and he shares his freediving octopus-stalking experiences with his son. It’s pretty trippy.

I can’t make up my mind on how I feel about the narration in this film. The movie isn’t just about the octopus; it’s about Foster and the octopus. The whole thing is narrated by him, with cuts to him sitting at a table. We occasionally delve into his personal life, but not too deep. We watch him researching octopuses online. We hear his opinions about everything happening with the octopus. On one hand, I feel it’s distracting, since the octopus story is really the most interesting aspect of the tale. On the other hand, the personal connection and relationship is exactly what makes this particular nature documentary so different. Seeing the octopus so clearly befriend our human makes us as the audience feel much closer to the octopus than we would otherwise. And some of the craziest stuff is some of the interaction between the octopus and the human, and it would be a shame to lose those scenes. I think, in the end, the heavy inclusion of Foster himself was the right call.

When the movie finished, my husband asked if we’re officially getting old, since we’re finding the documentaries to be the best movies this year. He’s absolutely right, and it’s a shame these amazing tales don’t get as much attention as Hollywood blockbusters. The good news is, with streaming, it’s now easier than ever to find these movies without needing to find the obscure artsy theatre in your city. IF you want a feel-good nature film that will ABSOLUTELY BLOW YOUR MIND, then this film is for you!

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