Arts & Entertainment, Reviews

REVIEW: ‘My Octopus Teacher’ is not for the faint of heart

Feeling down lately? Well, I can’t say this Netflix original will make things any better. “My Octopus Teacher” follows the story of a magnificent creature … and the egotistical man who won’t leave her the hell alone.

my octopus teacher on netflix
“My Octopus Teacher.” While the documentary is meant to be an uplifting story about the relationship between an octopus and main character Craig Foster, Foster’s fascination with the creature is inappropriate and enraging. ILLUSTRATION BY HANNAH YOSHINAGA/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

This documentary is meant to inspire hope, or at least I think it is. As a tale of man and nature, interspecies bonds and the miraculous intelligence of the octopus as a product of evolution, this film is meant to leave the viewer filled with wonder. Instead, I left quite disgusted.

The film’s main — human — character, Craig Foster, is to blame. Foster is an interesting guy, sure, but not really in a good way. Triggered by a midlife crisis that apparently left him unable to be a good father, Foster turns to the ocean, spending hours each day for a year visiting his aquatic mistress.

I say “mistress” because Foster’s sense of obsession and the way he talks about this creature’s body almost resembles pornography. For more than an hour, we hear so much from Foster about this damn octopus and next to nothing about the family he left at home — I forgot he even had one until the very end.

The film is very interested in what Foster spent his time doing in the kelp forest but never asks what his wife was doing during all this, how she felt being left with the children while her husband spent his time “befriending” an octopus.

Whatever sort of relationship Foster has to this octopus, it doesn’t prove to be a strong one. After we are made to fall in love with this beautiful creature, we see it nearly destroyed by a shark attack. Foster films the whole thing, engrossed by this mutilation of his “friend.”

The sharks are small, by the way, like the kind you pet at the aquarium. Foster claims he doesn’t move to protect her because he would be “interfering with the whole process of the forest.” As if coaxing this octopus out of its hole every single day for months on end isn’t a form of interference. All in all, I can’t say that this film left me feeling better about man or nature. I’d skip this one unless you’re looking to be enraged by something. Perhaps make a visit to an aquarium with well-fed and not eaten inhabitants instead.

14 Comments

  1. This is exactly how I felt about this film from beginning to end!! Thank you for articulating it so perfectly. I really don’t understand why so many people are gushing over it! IMHO. the filmmakers are really lucky there was a 2020 pandemic and people were stuck home watching everything and anything on Netflix. In normal circumstances, this dull documentary would never have gained this much attention. Bravo Julia Furmanek for having the guts to tell the truth with your review.

  2. Julia Furmanek clearly missed the entire point of this beautiful and profoundly moving documentary — which just won a BAFTA.

  3. I’m getting very much mixed signals from the author here. On the one hand, Julia seems to be decrying Craig’s involvement with the octopus (see: “…the egotistical man . . . won’t leave her the hell alone.”). On the other hand, Julia seems to be dismayed that Craig didn’t disturb the Octopus’ habitat even further to help her when danger nears (see: “Whatever sort of relationship Foster has to this octopus, it doesn’t prove to be a strong one. . . we see it nearly destroyed by a shark attack.”). This is also discounting the fact that we see the octopus succumb to the shark only *after* she had already died. I also feel this review discounts the fact that Craig seemed to very much respect his surroundings, and nature as a whole. He never pries, only physically touching the octopus when she reaches out to him first. Nature is nature, and the film captures the beauty—and heartbreak—that accompanies our bizarre world. I respect your opinion, but I wish there was slightly more thought given to this review.

  4. Thankyou for this Julia. Couldn’t agree with you more.

  5. wow, you just missed the whole point of the film. This is a groundbreaking nature documentary, and it’s a shame that you as a “critic” just don’t get it. Do us a favor and never review anything again, ok?

  6. Such a scathing “review “. Craig seems very respectful of the surroundings and is clearly seen to whoever watches this documentary. Comments about looking his relationship with his family are disgusting

  7. Please don’t review films going forward. Quite curious as to how you even have a job in this particular field.

  8. We agree. The guy is weird. Having an intimate relationship w an Octopus is creepy. It was beautifully filmed and the closeups of the sea life is really awesome. Having an unnatural obsession with an Octopus and discussing it adnauseum is just plain kookie in our opinion.

  9. Thank you for expressing exactly how I felt when watching My Octopus Teacher. It was 100% enraging. I am disgusted it just won an Oscar.

    Craig Foster went out of his way to lower the guard of his octopus ‘friend’ which naturally disrupts nature. Everyone is lying to themselves to think otherwise. He touches her, plays with her, interacts with her daily! Yet instead of being an actual friend and protecting her from the sharks or feeding her while she was hold up pregnant so she wouldn’t starve to death, he watches her be destroyed! It’s sickening!

    He disrupts her norm for his own benefit and is a voyeur only when it matters and could’ve saved her life. Where is the beauty in this film? He makes us humans look like heartless a-holes!

  10. People who love this documentary missed the most important lesson. She was his teacher but he was a horrible student. He had no problem encroaching upon her space, stalking her for days on end until she finally realized he was not going to harm her. Can you imagine the fear she felt daily as he kept coming back and she had no idea if he was going to kill her? His presence must have been so overwhelming – his humanness, the wetsuit, the face mask. All things she wasn’t familiar with. And then after they form this lovely bond, he leaves her to struggle to get back to safety after she was attacked. He felt more comfortable filming it than trying to get her back to her home safely. What kind of bond is that on his side? What kind of respect did he show her? NONE! His ego wanted him to have this friendship. He cared nothing about her or what she might be experiencing. What I loved most was seeing how loving and forgiving SHE was. Animals are amazing beings. We humans think nothing of using them for our own enjoyment. This Foster person exploited her and left her alone in her time of need. Yeah, he’s a really great guy.

  11. LEENA ELIZABETH ABRAHAM

    Watching the documentary, and I found it fascinating. The forming of a bond with a strange underwater animal, how mysterious how sensitive SHE is…how intelligent in a way. As for Craig ..he took the trouble to film this..and so we could see it.

  12. Christine Sutton

    The only thing that is disgusting is your review of this beautiful movie! To suggest that Craig had a sexual or inappropriate relationship with the octopus made me sick. That is just plain stupid. So he didn’t talk about his wife – the movie was not about that! You say he caused the octopus to be attacked, then didn’t protect it. Sharks attack octopi. It happens. It took all his self-control to let nature take its course. Watching this incredible story taught me so much about octopi, and most people agree. I will never be able to see this world in person, but watching this incredible story made me appreciate this other world so much.

  13. I find it dismaying that a journalist – or perhaps a journalism student – would choose to assume the worst about something we know little about. Foster and the filmmakers chose to leave his family life out of the documentary, probably to focus on the story of the octopus and perhaps to protect the privacy of the family. The filmmakers themselves say many stories emerged during the filmmaking process and had to edit out most of them. As far as I remember, Foster speaks of being burnt out from work, something a lot of us can relate to, and, in the end, relates to us about how he was able to connect more deeply with his son because he found a re-connection with himself through nature. I see no fault in that.The problem is that the documentary doesn’t explain to us what the situation is with his family, and so it leads people to assume the worst. I think Foster had some courage to be open about his obsession with his octopus friend. Who doesn’t have obsessive thoughts? How many of us can be equally as honest? If we were, It might contribute to others’ healing – if they were open to hearing us. Can we all allow ourselves to be more human? As far as interfering with the octopus’ life – he set fairly reasonable parameters – to observe and engage only when the octopus engaged with him, but not interfering with the process of its life. Did he do so by observing her? He tried to feed her once when she was recovering from having her arm bitten off; she saved herself. In the end, she was near death; to have parasites and predators finish her life seemed the most appropriate thing to do. He couldn’t have saved her life. It was done. Her body then became sustainment other living things. I’ve read a few criticisms of this documentary, and agree with “Aiden” who commented that the reviewer, like many critics, could have given some more thought before criticizing using their own personal and often anthropomorphic lens.

  14. Fernando De Leon

    I liked the documentary BUT he lies when he gave the idea of having a close and deep relationship with the octopus. He never saved the octopus. So it was just like another type of documentary. Like a bad publicity.