I watched ‘My Octopus Teacher’ and I’m never eating calamari again

The South African documentary had me in tears

By Tegan Mouton

I watched ‘My Octopus Teacher’ and I’m never eating calamari again

My Octopus Teacher

We know we’re late to the party but we had to give a shoutout to Netflix’s first South African doccie, My Octopus Teacher, a film that reminded us how badly we wished we were mermaids when we were growing up.

The film tells the story of Capetonian filmmaker and free diver, Craig Foster, who started taking daily swims in a kelp forest near Camps Bay after suffering from work burnout, depression and general fatigue. One day while snorkelling he came across an octopus, a fairly rare experience in the wild, and decided to return everyday to learn more about his new friend.

He did exactly that for over 300 days, developing a deep emotional bond with the creature (which he purposefully didn’t name) and learning more about her and her intelligence as she grew used to him and let him follow her around. We won’t spoil the ending for you but it has Marley and Me vibes and left me in tears. 

It’s a fantastic story about nature that serves to teach us we are not the centre of the universe as we so often think we are, and it’s also about an interesting conflict for filmmaker who knows he needs to stay impartial and removed from nature, but struggles to keep his distance as he grows attached to the sweet animal (there are some stressful AF moments concerning pajama sharks). 

The film is backed by the Sea Change Project, an NGO raising awareness about the great African sea forest. and has been gaining attention overseas. High-profile news outlets like The Washington Post, CNN and USA Today are giving it positive reviews, and celebrities are endorsing it on social media.

“I really recommend this movie,” comedian Amy Schumer wrote on Instagram. “I’m not joking.” Pitch Perfect star Brittany Snow commented on Schumer’s post saying that she’s “never cried more,” and actor Justin Theroux added, “Concur. Had me in tears. Bye calamari.”

The movie has also received eight nominations for the Jackson Wild Media Award, and won Best Feature at the EarthxFilm Festival. 

New things I learnt

To be entirely honest I don’t feel the word “documentary” is the perfect fit here, maybe not if you’re picturing David Attenborough’s dripping voice over Planet Earth footage. Don’t get me wrong I LOVED it and the cinematography was brilliant (it must have taken hundreds of hours to get such incredible footage and the rare bond between the two is really special) but it comes across as much more of a personal story than an educational one.

That said, here are the top three things I learnt from My Octopus Teacher:

Octopuses are semelparous animals

This means that females of the species die after they reproduce (lay eggs). This plays heavily into the story, but again, no spoilers…

They have super short lives 

It turns out octopuses generally only live like one to two years (can be more or less depending on the species), so Foster actually gets to see the little octopus over most of her life, making their bond that much more special.

They are VERY smart

I already knew this, but I don’t think I appreciated it enough. Foster watches his octopus friend play with fish for fun, cover herself in shells when she’s trying to hide, adapt her hunting techniques, and actually outwit a shark by hitching a ride on its back. Basically, she’s a little genius.

The hilarious spoof 

In true South African fashion, My Octopus Teacher has also inspired a truly hilarious spoof counterpart, which we’ve already watched like 500 times.

My Kreepy Teacher  is a brilliant piece of marketing done for Kreepy Krauly by Mike Sharman, cofounder of the agency Retroviral, and stars local comedian Glen Biderman Pam. Watch it below: 

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