by Johnathan Gullick, The Nueva School
James Herriot – veterinary surgeon and writer – said, “if having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.” Craig Foster learned the same thing. His film, My Octopus Teacher, highlights the relationship between Foster and an octopus.
In the early stages of Foster’s career, when he filmed the way that the San master trackers joined the natural world, he concluded that “they were inside.” He longed to be a part of nature, like them, and his relationship with the octopus allowed him to do that. He originally started diving without recording when he didn’t want to experience filming again. He healed because the dive gave him a way to conjoin filming – something he loved – with being unfettered by the daily struggles in life. I too encountered an animal.
When I was regularly visiting the zoo for a project, there was a chimpanzee named Jamie who could respond with gestures to questions or requests such as “Show me your ouchie.” She was treated as unintelligent. Jamie and the other chimpanzees in the enclosure weren’t taught to take full advantage of their intellect, whereas chimpanzees in the wild (which I had seen in documentaries) were.
I realized that when humans feel superior to others, they try to make other beings appear less intelligent than reality. As Foster and I both learned, animals have a potential that is undermined by humans.
Curiosity and discovery would have a huge impact in a difficult time in my life mainly because it would give me a purpose. When you are doing the same thing repeatedly, exploration makes you see something new, which brings interest into your daily life. As Foster learned, his new interest can save you from exasperation with routine. He had time to experience the “pure magnificence” of the octopus.
My Octopus Teacher highlighted the benefits of spending time as a part of nature. It showed how Foster’s relationship healed him enormously. Most of all, it showed that animals are beings.