My Octopus Teacher


“My Octopus Teacher” starring Craig Foster and a very clever female octopus won this year’s Best Documentary Feature Academy Award.  This was added to 19 other film awards.

This underwater story was filmed in False Bay near Cape Town, South Africa.  It is a very simple story: Craig Foster, a middle-aged photographer exhausted by his work filming the minute details of tracking wild animals in Africa, recovers at home by exploring the underwater kelp forest of False Bay.

His filming is extraordinarily detailed in exploring the beautiful kelp forest and its denizens.  This in itself makes the film award-winning.  During his deep-water dives, however, he is intrigued by the adventures of a small octopus. Patiently, he forms a mutual relationship with her.

The relationship develops over the course of a year of filming, and the effect that it has on Foster is extraordinary.  He is intrigued by the behaviour of an octopus – her interest in him, her ability to hide from the enemy, striped pajama sharks, by covering herself with sea weed and shells, and her ingenuity in finding food and playmates.

He decides to see if he can befriend her and visits her everyday over the year of her short life.  As the octopus becomes accustomed to and accepting of his presence, she begins to welcome Foster and to share her life – her attack and injury by a shark, her recovery, her mating and reproduction of hundreds of offspring, and finally her death.

Gradually in the film the octopus allows Foster to touch her, and finally we witness her giving him a friendly, if somewhat cumbersome hug. This relationship in itself is intriguingly beautiful, but the effect that it has on Foster is even more so.  We see him gradually changing from a withdrawn husband and father who wonders about his future, to an energetic deep-sea explorer and committed parent and spouse who shares his new life adventures with his wife and son.

These days we are frequently reminded about our task of responsible care for the world.  The octopus teacher in turn reminds us of the world’s extraordinary care for us humans.

Joseph Schner, SJ, is a professor of Psychology and Religion at the Toronto School of Theology.

  • Robert Czerny
    Posted at 09:19h, 16 June Reply

    Thank you for your perceptive review. It is delightful to think of this octopus as an ally of Pope Francis in teaching the lessons of Laudato si! I heard some people say that the film is a bit long, but that is a lesson too: listening should not be rushed.

  • Alana Forrester
    Posted at 13:39h, 16 June Reply

    It is an extraordinarily beautiful film and very moving. Patient observation and waiting to see what can unfold was one of many lessons taught by his octopus teacher.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 14:13h, 16 June Reply

    Thank you Joe!

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