In My Octopus Teacher a diver finds redemption in the kelp forests off the coast of South Africa.

According to an article published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, more than 80% of the earth’s oceans remain unexplored. I realize that this is a statistic that gets thrown around a lot as a fun bit of trivia, but I challenge you to really think about it; when coupled with the fact that over 70% of our world is ocean, this means that we know very little about more than half of the planet that we call home. 

If space is the final frontier, then the oceans are definitely the semifinal frontier. But while the seas are a fascinating hotbed of unexplored potential, they can also be terrifying, dark and alien. Such locales are usually best seen with an experienced guide who knows his or her way around, and when there are no Sherpas or Sméagols around, an octopus will have to do. 

My Octopus Teacher is one such mollusky tale that is occasionally boring, occasionally beautiful, and one that is much more of a personal narrative than an academic one.  

 The first thing that struck me when watching this new Netflix documentary was how pretty a lot of it is. I’m not a guy who usually cares about picture quality (I’m not even sure if my TV is HD or 4K), but My Octopus Teacher is one of those films that higher definitions were made for. Maybe this is true of any sea-based documentary … I wouldn’t know, as I’m not exactly an aficionado. But when you throw some soothing music on top of it all, the whole thing makes for a pleasant experience, if not a riveting one. 

The narrator’s voice is uncommonly boring to listen to, and the action never moves beyond the same stretch of water. I would be lying if I said my attention didn’t wander occasionally or that I felt like falling asleep more than once, but overall it was a harmless hour-and-a-half that made me smile and feel at peace as much as it made me bored.  

The story itself basically boils down to this: A guy is feeling depressed (is he having a mid-life crisis? Going through a divorce? The backstory is murky and unclear) and decides to take up diving. He meets a cool octopus and it teaches him about life. That’s… pretty much it. It is a small and intimate tale that made me think of the important relationships I have had with animals in my own life and even made me want to have an octopus friend before I remembered I find them creepy and gross. This is not a documentary that throws facts at you (I didn’t learn anything new about octopi), but one that makes you feel if you let it.  

Will I remember My Octopus Teacher in a year? No. I honestly doubt that I’ll remember anything about it beyond next week or so as I move on to my next review. But for those who need a reminder of the beauty and terror of nature (or for those who have run out of melatonin), My Octopus Teacher will do just fine.  

My Octopus Teacher is now available on Netflix.