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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that My Octopus Teacher is a nature documentary about a man looking to regain his passion for life. Retreating from life's problems, filmmaker Craig Foster tries to recharge by returning to the stormy South African shore of his youth, where he dives into the local kelp forest and meets a resourceful and friendly octopus. He spends nearly a year visiting her daily, and the relationship affects him deeply. For kids who love animals, the depiction of a relationship between a human and a wild creature could be thrilling. Creatures of the deep eat each other and flee from predators. An octopus loses an arm. A beloved creature goes through a full life cycle, which may upset sensitive viewers. Language includes "hell."
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What's the story?
Documentary-maker Craig Foster doesn't list the troubles that drove him from his beloved filmmaking to recharge on the South African coast of his childhood, but he describes himself as unfit to be near his son during this period. In this unbalanced state, he starts diving alone in the chilly waters of the kelp forest to relax and escape, and soon spots the title's MY OCTOPUS TEACHER. The eight-armed, liquid creature is a plucky and resourceful predator, a master of disguise, and supremely self-reliant. In his daily dives, Foster's patience and doggedness with the octopus is rewarded. She seems to accept him as a benign seafarer and crawls up his hand cautiously. Eventually she sits on his chests and lets him pet her. Over the course of a year of daily diving, though he feels protective, he refrains from interfering in her and the other animals' lives. This is especially difficult when the octopus is dramatically chased by a shark. She survives but loses an arm in the process. Weak and pale after, she eventually recovers fully, sporting a new appendage. Foster reports that as he obsesses over the octopus and her dramas, he feels himself caring more, not just for his new friend but for his son, who joins him on some dives, and for other people as well. The movie's epigraph notes that the experience of sharing his life with the octopus inspired him to start a group of divers dedicated to preserving the kelp forest.
Is it any good?
My Octopus Teacher is an enthralling and moving record of a man in pain and retreat who seemingly finds his humanity by spending time with a charming and intelligent invertebrate. In the chilly South African Atlantic Ocean, weaving himself through kelp with only a mask, flippers, snorkel, and camera, he reports that he starts to care about others. The photography is spectacular, and the images he and directors Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed capture are extraordinary and revealing of a world most of us know nothing about.
The life cycle of his octopus friend takes us on a roller coaster of emotions: her moment of triumph as a mother provides the movie's melancholy end. This deeply felt conclusion underscores the movie's one missing element. Foster has no hesitation to expose the private life of his invertebrate friend, but he never explains the nature of the personal troubles that made him seemingly abandon friends and family and renounce life among humans for immersion in nature. If he really became a psychically healthier man because of his relationship with the octopus, it would have been great to know what about his previous life drove him to try to be a better man. Kevin Smuts' score is a perfect auditory match for the stunning visual beauty of the deep.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the relationship between humans and animals. Does it surprise you that an octopus seems to take an interest in befriending a human? How could you learn more about your favorite animals?
What are some of the ways that the octopus demonstrates more intelligence than we might expect of a non-mammal sea creature?
Why did Foster refrain from helping the octopus when she was being chased by a shark? Do you think he did the right thing by observing the situation without getting involved? Why or why not?
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