Rather unnoticed, THE WISDOM OF THE OCTOPUS deserves to be seen!
Documentary is a genre that still struggles to seduce viewers. Deemed too didactic, or too linear, the public very often remains resistant. Making a feature film on the life of an octopus is therefore a very daring bet. And yet, James reed and Pippa Ehrlich raise it hands down. It is by diverting the codes of the genre and by presenting their film to us as a real fiction that they will succeed in convincing the public. You would have understood it, THE WISDOM OF THE OCTOPUS is not a simple animal report but indeed an incredible story of friendship.
From the first minutes, the voice over of Craig foster, the producer and the main character of the film, explains that this meeting completely changed his life. He adds that in order to be able to understand him, he must then go back to where it all began.
This narrative structure is that of a classic fiction, the story is based on a flashback which leads us to understand Craig’s current position. In this sequence that can be described as an exhibition, we discover Craig’s universe, his routine and his objectives. Craig is a seasoned director and family man who has been experiencing deep discomfort for some time. He no longer feels any passion, tired of his work, he withdraws into himself and abandons his own family.
Until now, the viewer has rather the impression of witnessing a fiction, a dramatic film. And this is confirmed by the arrival of a disturbance called in scriptwriting: the triggering incident. In all fictions, the hero’s routine is disrupted by an event. Event that will push him to have to make a choice. Let’s take the example of a movie we all know: Star Wars, Episode IV. While young Luke Skywalker is bored on his uncle’s farm, he discovers a message hidden in the droid he just bought. This message completely messes up his plans. Will he ignore it? Or will he try to learn more? The character must choose.
In THE WISDOM OF THE OCTOPUS, the discovery of this octopus upsets Craig. He is totally fascinated by this animal. He who no longer wanted to exercise his profession, decided to reconnect with his passion and go study this octopus.
Therefore, the film takes the form of a logbook where we witness the development of their relationship from the first day to the last. The original title is much more meaningful: MY OCTOPUS TEACHER. The octopus, by its behavior, comforts Craig. The animal gives him his trust and that’s what Craig needed. We see him in particular with a very touching and completely hallucinating sequence where the octopus snuggles in his arms and goes up with him to the surface.
However, as in any story, this relationship cannot escape twists and turns. The most important will remain the attack of the pajama shark, the most feared predator of the octopus. This sequence takes place at night, Craig, lamp in hand, explores this impressive kelp forest located at the tip of South Africa. The atmosphere is worthy of a thriller, the suspense is at its peak. The shark appears and follows in a chase between itself and its prey. If the octopus manages not to be completely devoured, it still loses a tentacle.
Craig is deeply touched, he fully feels this loss. It is then his turn to help him and after a few weeks, the tentacle grows back. The octopus manages to survive and overcome this obstacle. This event is very important for Craig, who now feels able to face his own difficulties. He is then inspired by his object of study and makes every effort to improve. This notably involves the development of a new relationship with his son. He comes out of his bubble and makes him discover his world. Together, they now share the same passion. For its part, the octopus continues its exploits and manages to surpass its predator. Simply for this sequence, the film is worth watching.
THE WISDOM OF THE OCTOPUS, in addition to being a fascinating story, reserves a fantastic setting. The spectator is in total immersion, he explores the seabed himself. The multitude of subjective planes greatly participate in this effect.
The sea and all the beings that compose it are sublimated. The octopus, which is however not a majestic animal, is magnified. As had done Jean Painlevé in 1928, James reed and Pippa Ehrlich try to film the animals in another way.
Animals, but also humans, because if the octopus is sometimes humanized, Craig, conversely, is made wilder, more natural. Once again, the two beings are complementary.
THE WISDOM OF THE OCTOPUS is therefore a story of emotion, passion and inspiration. Whether for its original staging or its incredible script, this unusual documentary deserves to be watched!
Original title : The Wisdom of the Octopus • Production : James Reed, Pippa Ehrlich • Main actors : Craig Foster • Release date : September 7, 2020 • Duration: 1h25min