Once you’ve seen enough documentaries, it becomes nearly impossible to ignore the genre’s inherent artificiality; its entire purpose, after all, is to construct a narrative out of gathered footage. When the stories that they tell are as deeply personal and poetic as My Octopus Teacher’s, however, it’s equally difficult to view this “deception” as a flaw—indeed, one could even argue that such minor distortions of the “objective facts” merely enrich and elevate the “truth.”
Chronicling filmmaker Craig Foster’s remarkable relationship with the eponymous cephalopod, the movie is occasionally guilty of sentimentalism and anthropomorphism, but its craftsmanship and visual style are undeniably impeccable; the cinematography and sound design immerse the audience in the beauty and grandeur of nature, while the editing and narration perfectly capture the rhythm and meter of memory.
More importantly, perhaps, My Octopus Teacher encourages the viewer to venture out and really experience the world—to explore, to observe, to discover. It’s a surprisingly effective call to action; I’d almost forgotten my childhood fondness for snorkeling in the shallows and encountering the myriad strange wonders that the ocean has to offer (including, of all things, a tiny octopus hiding in the cockpit of a discarded toy airplane). Now, though, I am sorely tempted to dig out my old goggles and flippers… despite my current lack of physical fitness and my distaste for sand and sunburn.