South Africa: The Reel - 'My Octopus Teacher' Is About Love and Redemption

My Octopus Teacher is a spine-tingling story forecast to win an Oscar at this year's Academy Awards in the documentary category.

The first film I have ever seen earn a 100 per cent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the cinema rating system much like Moody's for the Wall Street Stock Exchange.

But it isn't just critics who are fascinated by this profoundly moving story. Filmed off South Africa's coast mainly in the turbulent Atlantic Ocean, it's also ordinary viewers who watch and then recommend the film to friends and family alike.

Safe for children

It's a film that is safe for children and delicate minds to watch because it is not only beautiful, presenting some of the most exquisite underwater photography imaginable. It's also bittersweet since it is a kind of love story that ends in tragedy as most love stories do.

But then, the finale of the film includes redemption of an equally fulfilling kind.

My Octopus Teacher is all about Craig Foster, a photographer facing a kind of midlife crisis that gets turned around once he encounters a curious creature he has never seen before in the sea. It turns out to be an animal capable of camouflaging itself more ingeniously than a chameleon.

Foster finds this invertebrate can not only change her colour, texture, and size; she can shape-shift into an infinite number of forms, depending on what is happening in her environment.

Foster grew up on the ocean's coastline, right where the tides and giant waves keep rolling in at all hours of day and night. A first-class swimmer, he is not at peace with himself on land. But he tries doing a day job for years. That takes him to the Kalahari Desert, where he meets indigenous people, men who are what he says are some of the world's best trackers.

In awe of bush trackers

He is in awe of these scouts who can distinguish between foot tracks left in the sand by sundry creatures, and they will know which one. These bush trackers inspire him to go back to the place he loves, namely the ocean and try tracking creatures in a way similar to what they do. That leads him to find one relatively small octopus, the one that intrigued him that first day.

Committing himself to watching her respectfully every day until he gains her trust, what might seem incorrigible about the man is why he would do such a thing with his life? Foster doesn't disclose the nature of his crisis and feeling of desperation. But he speaks with such humility and even reverence for nature and the wild, you quickly see he was looking for a purpose. And this octopus gave him what he desired.

My Octopus Teacher is something of a love story because Foster dedicates himself to tracking and visiting her every day in the ocean. He wears no bodysuit and only shorts and a small oxygen device. He says that's because he wants to understand her environment personally.

Her domain is a thick green kelp forest filled with an abundance of fellow sea creatures, predators, and prey. Because he eventually gains the octopus's trust, he is able to witness her everyday life in the wild, which is still pristine clean and clear.

The moment she allows herself to touch his hand is breath-taking. Maybe not everyone will feel this way. But Foster, together with a brilliant co-cinematographer Roger Horrocks and a sensitive sound man, build up such a beautifully vibrant backdrop to her dropping her defenses that one cannot help but be moved by that delicate moment.

A sneaky stalker

But their bonding doesn't change Pyjama Sharks' predator nature, the fish most threatening to the octopus's life. Foster admits he would've wanted to step in and save her from that sneaky stalker. But he soon discovers she can take care of herself. And this is where we see her shape-shifting as only a spineless, soft-skinned being can move.

I won't give away how the romance between Foster and his 'Teacher' ends. But we, the audience, can't help feeling that this film has taught us many things. First and foremost is the true beauty of unpolluted terrain. We also see the incredible allure of the underwater world. Foster says it feels like flying once you catch the rhythm of that world.

In the end, Foster can share his joy of the sea with his son, and that's his ultimate redemption.

My Octopus Teacher is on Netflix.

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