MY OCTOPUS TEACHER – Review by Susan Granger

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I’ve seen hundreds of nature documentaries but nothing like Craig Foster’s compelling, Oscar-winning underwater adventure, chronicling his free-diving – without wetsuit or scuba gear- in the frigid Atlantic Ocean in the Cape of Storms, off the Western coast of South Africa every day for a year.

Best known for filming The Great Dance (2000) about the indigenous Kalahari San trackers, Foster was, admittedly, mentally depressed and physically exhausted when he started swimming in a shallow cove with a dense kelp forest.

One day, he spotted an octopus hiding in a crevice and, somehow, developed a kind of kinship with this curious creature. “A lot of people say that an octopus is like an alien,” he notes. “But the strange thing is that, as you get closer to them, you realize that we’re very similar in a lot of ways.”

An octopus is a soft-bodied mollusk with a bulbous head and eight tentacles, studded with webbed, sticky suction cups. Essentially boneless, it can squeeze through very tight, narrow passages.

The octopus survives on a diet of fish, snails, birds, crabs and lobsters. In most cases, octopuses feed at night but they’ll often capture prey during the day when it crosses their path. Octopuses are carnivorous, meaning they only feed on meat.

Directed by first-time South African filmmaker and fellow free-diver Pippa Ehrlich, along with British documentarian James Reed, it records Foster’s daily excursions, superbly photographed by Roger Horrocks (BBC’s “Our Planet,” “Blue Planet II”), whose underwater camera got up-close-and-personal with this particular cephalopod.

It’s fascinating to see – for example – how this clever female octopus covers herself with an assortment of shells – an armoring/camouflaging device – and then outwits a predatory pyjama shark by riding on its back. Her creativity and intelligence are remarkable – enhanced by Kevin Smuts’ score.

Perhaps Foster’s identification of his personal catharsis as parallel to that of the octopus is a bit far-fetched but that’s understandable, given his obsession with her.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, My Octopus Teacher is an exotic, exquisite 8, a captivating documentary, streaming on Netflix.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.