Review: The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus

Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe

Edinburgh International Film Festival

Documentary about the impact of the unexpected star of the 2010 World Cup, the results predicting Paul the Psychic Octopus.

Who could forget Paul the Psychic Octopus, the 100 per cent successful predictor of the outcomes of eight major games (including the final) of the 2010 World Cup? Certainly not director Alexandre O. Philippe, who previously put Star Wars filmmaker George Lucas on trial in The People vs. George Lucas (2010).

In telling the story of unlikely seer Paul, Philippe comes at the subject from a variety of angles. There’s a critique of celebrity culture, with Paul elevated to star status due to what seems to have been little more than a PR stunt and an admittedly unlikely statistical anomaly. The media feeding frenzy that followed Paul’s initial correct predictions reached a height as the final approached: could the Octopus—based in the Oberhausen Sea Life Centre in Germany—make it eight out of eight correct predictions?

There’s a serious strand threaded through the film that deals with the reality (or otherwise) of oracles in history and myth, and marvels of the animal kingdom (including the inevitable Punxsutawney Phil). There’s also some question about the validity of football pundits: how ‘informed’ can they really be if they can be out-predicted by a celebrity octopus? The emphasis, however, is on humour with a variety of filmic styles from standard ‘talking heads’ interviews to cut-out animations and stop-motion Lego figures used to tell the story of Paul.

The worldwide sensation caused by the celaphopod’s correct pronouncements is ably represented, with a variety of clips from YouTube spoof films and music videos. The merchandise (official—Paul’s ‘agent’ is interviewed—and unofficial) is also featured. All the interviewees approach the subject with the right mixture of seriousness and sly humour, although music producer Mike Stock is most prone to losing his equilibrium. The icing on the seafood cake is a pair of psychics who claim to have been in touch with Paul from beyond the grave, although they offer contradictory information about his current thoughts and opinions. Approached in the right way, The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus is exactly the ‘fairy tale’ director Philippe describes the story as in an opening caption.

Verdict: The little calamari that could! 8/10

Brian J. Robb

The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus screens at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on 22 June at 20:45 and 23 June at 15:05.

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