Midway through the documentary "My Octopus Teacher" there's a scene where documentarian Craig Foster sees the octopus he's befriended come under attack by a hungry shark. Though Foster is much larger than the shark and has developed an affection for her, he stops himself from interfering. When all is said and done, he cannot bring himself to interrupt the natural cycle of predator and prey that he's come to respect. He's clearly in anguish as the shark death rolls the octopus out from under the rock she's taken shelter in, and he lets the shark swim away with one of her arms. The next few weeks are spent documenting the regrowth of the octopus's missing limb. The lesson is profound; the natural world has its own rules and it's a dangerous idea to anthropomorphize the creatures that live there.
If you're uncharitable, the documentary "My Octopus Teacher" is just some guy documenting his midlife crisis. But it's also a story of how interacting with nature changes a person. There are definitely hints of Werner Herzog in the cinematography and in the internal narration, in Foster's exploration of the cycle of life and death by watching his new friend. He's a sharp person and he doesn't name her or assume human personality attributes to the creature. The film is sort of a meditation on the natural world and our place in it.
A big part of the film is Foster's relationship with his son. The cycle of life and death, of growth and development is a big part of the film. The octopus dies nurturing her young and, after Foster witnesses it, the film ends with him sharing the wonders of nature with is son. We get a sense of continuity, of things never really being gone but passing along into new forms to have new experiences. While only 28% of global kelp forests can boast evidence of rude health, the Great African Seaforest is one that remains miraculously intact. But nevertheless, despite its vigour and importance within the local ocean ecosystem, the underwater forest is constantly under threat from global warming, overfishing and poaching.
The cinematography is absolutely beautiful. The kelp forests of South Africa are an alien world, and Foster learns to develop an appreciation of the ecosystem in its entirety. It's a wonderful film that showcases the beauty of the natural world and the spiritual connection that humans can gain from interacting with it. In the end, Foster reflects about what his octopus teach her about beauty and connectedness while understanding that you're still a visitor to the natural world and have a responsibility not to disturb it.