MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
If you are feeling tired of being housebound during this prolonged period of voluntary isolation, let me recommend My Octopus Teacher, a straightforward movie that tells the simple story of Craig Foster, a nature photographer, who separates himself from his family (during a rough patch in his life) to get his head together.
Foster retreats to a beloved spot in his past – the Atlantic Ocean on the southern tip of South Africa – and begins snorkeling in the icy water. One day he observes a strange occurrence: a group of shells moving together. Slowly he notices that the creature hiding behind the camouflage is a small female octopus. Intrigued, he returns the next day to the same spot and watches the creature again. Over time, the octopus becomes more comfortable with him and allows him to get closer. Eventually Foster develops a friendship with the octopus and a relationship that will last for almost a year.
My Octopus Teacher employs first person narration by Foster combined with incredibly beautiful photography that reveals the color and wonder of the underwater world. You could call it a talking head / eight arms documentary. There are some exciting scenes in which the octopus has to defend herself against predators, but most of the film is filled with new oceanic discoveries that Foster makes the longer he keeps returning to the same spot.
A number of recent books (by Peter Godfrey-Smith, Sy Montgomery, and Frans De Waal) have noted the high intelligence of the octopus and this film makes a strong case for that belief. While My Octopus Teacher is certainly sentimental at times, it avoids the wacky (and often entertaining) anthropomorphism of Disney Nature films. The octopus is never given a name.
I am curious about how younger children might react to a movie without a pumped-up narrative, but I am inclined to think that the colors, smooth movement, and understated music score might provide soothing comfort to them. It worked for me!
My Octopus Teacher is a great commentary to place alongside the psalmist’s hymn of praise: “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.” (Psalm 104: 24-25)
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Five halos: A beautiful film of the natural world that inspires awe and wonder.
One pitchfork: Mean sharks.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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