August 2, 2021

How the octopus conquered humanity

By Nicolas Santolaria

Posted today at 5:45 p.m.

Where can you find a real mentor these days? Someone who inspires you? Make you see the world differently? To tell the truth, to find this rare pearl, it is perhaps best not to look for it. This is precisely what happened to James Reed, director of animal documentaries who, in the early 2010s, found himself devastated by a burnout. Exhausted by the shootings, unable to take care of his son properly, James had the feeling of living outside the world, of being its dried up spectator. It was then that the idea came to him to reconnect with his childhood and to go diving, as he did in the past, in the cool waters of “Cape of Storms”, at the tip of South Africa. Without wetsuit, without bottles, to avoid putting barriers between him and the environment.

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In the heart of the soaring landscapes of the underwater kelp forests, palming among the pajama sharks, James gradually begins to feel alive again, until the day he crosses the road of a fearful little octopus, Octopus vulgaris for close friends, also commonly called an octopus. “I felt that this creature was really unique, she could teach me something, she had something special. So I got this crazy idea: what if I went there every day, every day without exception? ”

What James Reed did, not without being accompanied by the camera lens. The Wisdom of the Octopus (My Octopus Teacher), directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed and broadcast on Netflix since 2020, is the amniotic and readily antidepressant story of this encounter between a human being at the end of the roll and an octopod with many suckers.

Transformiste et thaumaturge

“I was amazed at the amount of things she was teaching me. She taught me to feel that we were part of this place, that we were not just visitors ”, confides James Reed, in voiceover, fallen in love with this transformist mentor and miracle worker who lives in perfect symbiosis with his environment. After having gained confidence, the animal, here almost deified, ends up extending one of its tentacles in the direction of the man as if to re-instill in him the taste for life, a movement which recalls this detail of The Creation of Adam, fresco painted by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican.

Read also: “The Wisdom of the Octopus”: psychoanalysis through the octopus, between visual fascination and existential crises

Bathed in ostensibly moving layers of music, the film, which won the Oscar for best documentary on April 25 in Los Angeles, is an invitation to re-register in a non-vertical way at the heart of ecosystems and to recognize other forms. intelligences than ours. Because, seeing these images, it appears indisputable that this strong arm is strategizing, cunning, playing. This animal intelligence invites humility all the more since the little octopus, whose mother dies shortly after the eggs hatch, must learn everything on its own, without benefiting from the transfer of knowledge specific to social life.

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