So, there’s this documentary. Netflix’s My Octopus Teacher, directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed, centers on Craig Foster, a filmmaker who forges a bond with an octopus in the wild. And before we get into all the sturm und drang of the thing as it exists on Twitter, take a moment to watch the trailer. First of all, it is very cool to look at because the ocean is, to use a technical term, bonkers. But second, the tone is important here, and before we start talking about octopi and eroticism and stuff we should probably all be on the same page. Go on. Hit play. Enjoy the weepy music.
Welcome back! You may have picked up on an undercurrent of plaintive longing and hushed wonder throughout that video. It’s intentional! The story put forth by the doc is, unabashedly, one of a life-changing connection betwixt diver and octopus. It’s right there in the trailer. You would not be alone in sensing that vibe, probably because the octopus is filmed like she’s in a flashback about a dead wife in a comic book character’s gritty origin story.
Craig Foster was diving, bare-chested, in bitterly cold waters off the southern-most tip of Africa when he saw her—an octopus hiding under a cloak of shells and stones.
Enchanted, he began following this incredibly shy creature, trying to prove he wasn’t a predator by staying very still in her presence. For weeks she evaded him: hiding in her den, camouflaging herself, or pushing her liquid body into the nearest crack to escape.
And then, after 26 days of near obsessive wooing, she reached out and touched him.
[A]fter about six weeks of sea sojourns, he loses track of the colorful creature who has wooed him with her ingenious ways of defending herself from predators and mystical methods of changing color and adapting her swimming style to her surroundings. Foster worries that he’s scared her away with his camera lens.
But after another week passes and Foster learns how to read octopus tracks, he finds his muse and an emotional reunion takes place. The octopus crawls on Foster’s hand and nestles into his chest
“It was absolutely mind-blowing,” Foster recalls as I tear up. “The boundaries between her and I seemed to dissolve.”
Here’s the headline for The Daily Beast’s piece on the film, which calls the relationship an “extraordinary bond—nay, romance” and “a love affair so weird and astonishing that no amount of intrusive filmmaking gestures can quite diminish its wacko power.”
And here’s writer Sophie Lewis, with a Twitter thread that people are Big Mad about:
It is, without question, a lot!
Whether or not Lewis’ read on the film is all that sound is not for us to say—this isn’t a review, much less (heaven forbid) a take of any temperature—but it is worth pointing out that she’s addressing something also addressed in these other reviews, and following that thread to a not-that-surprising conclusion. Because whoa nelly, are people steamed about it:
On both sides!
Somehow in this, our year of hot garbage, it’s the thread about the octopus documentary and eroticism and queer theory and what exactly eroticism and queer theory mean in an academic sense that’s going to tear us apart. Folks! Take a breath! It is a documentary about a man and the octopus he loves in a deep way that may or may not be romantic!
Kate Wagner, The New Republic’s architecture critic, also weighed in, and the two phases of her response seem wholly sensible to us. Phase one:
She then adds that she is “not weighing in on the discourse because as a hetero-married bi woman i am simply not queer enough anymore to speak to what is queer with anything resembling authority.” But then she watched the thing:
Indeed! So we’re asking: Where do you stand on the octopus discourse? Stroll into the comments.
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