Werner Herzog breaks the internet in his latest documentary “Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World.” Well, he cracks it open to carefully examine the insides – the glorious possibilities and the devastating potential pitfalls. He brings his signature style, but also his singular point-of-view: skeptical, hopeful, existentially curious. Through his eyes we see the internet in a different way, taking a magnifying glass to this entity that’s become ubiquitous in our daily lives.
“Lo and Behold” is filled with Herzog’s documentary tics and hallmarks – his inimitable deadpan Bavarian-accented voice-over, his joshing with the subjects from off screen, as well as his tendency to let the camera rest on his subjects before and after they’ve spoken, which is a silent reminder that yes, we’re watching a film, an artificially constructed argument. Herzog is always a strong presence in his documentaries though we almost never see him.
The documentary is segmented into 10 chapters, exploring different aspects of the internet’s many facets – there’s “The Glory of the Internet” and “The Dark Side.” He tackles everything from hackers to internet rehab, to online harassment and the possibilities for the internet to cure disease by crowdsourcing efforts from gamers. Herzog even imagines the “Internet on Mars.”
The film hops from topic to topic, and at times, as a viewer you’re searching for a clear thesis. We bounce from a college student gleefully explaining robot soccer to a devastating portrait of a family destroyed by online harassment after the death of a daughter. We rejoice in the ability for the connected world to work together to cure illness, and are then introduced to a group of people sickened by the invisible radio waves that have become almost inescapable. These juxtapositions complicate our feelings about the internet – the film is not all reveries, all the time.
Herzog remains off camera through “Lo and Behold,” but his perspective is strong as he asks questions and chuckles with his subjects, mostly brilliant scientists and researchers. He vehemently disagrees with a robotics scientist who ponders if the films that robots will someday make will be as good as Herzog’s. Toward the end he stumps these brilliant astronomers and internet researchers and inventors by asking them “does the internet dream of itself?” Their silence as they search for an answer is all we need to know about the questions that haven’t yet been answered.
Herzog’s thesis doesn’t quite come into relief until the last part of the film. While he’s pushed these researchers on questions of love and dreams and other ineffably human things in relationship to the internet, Herzog leaves us on a celebration of something that we can’t find online. It’s a bluegrass band jamming in an Appalachian town that’s cut off all cellular and radio waves due to interference with an astronomical satellite. That joy and connection in music and community is something that artificial intelligence could never re-create, at least for many, many years. While we might be in the reverie of a newly machine-connected world, let us not abandon those ways in which we’ve known how to make connections for thousands of years.
Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World
Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language and some thematic elements. Starring: Elon Musk, Lawrence Krauss, Kevin Mitnick. Director: Werner Herzog. Running time: 98 minutes. Theater: Flicks.