‘Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World’ has Herzog tugging at wires of Web
In 10 micro-chapters Werner Herzog, the director of the classic odysseys “Fitzcarraldo” (1982) and “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” (1972), tackles the rise of the Internet and the perils and promise of a connected world. The scope and the questions are nothing new – “Who is going to be liable if a computer makes a mistake?” Herzog asks about self-driven cars – but the filmmaker’s laid-back yet probing style and quest for getting at the human condition and effects of a digital sphere enveloping society is nothing short of infectious. (It’s viral, if you will.)
“Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World” has segments with pointed titles such as “The Internet of Me,” “The Glory of the ‘Net” and of course “The Future,” each delving into a different facet of the Internet, be it historical or a conjecture as to where to next. Herzog buffers most the blips with the Philip K. Dickian question, “Does the Internet dream of itself?” The ones that provoke the most are the ones that tackle the downside of being connected. One woman tags the Net as a “manifestation of the Antichrist,” – the underscoring of that being a family who lost their daughter in a car accident and the pain that the graphically snapped photos from the scene inflicted on them during their grieving when unleashed onto the Web, ever proliferating, unretrievable and unstoppable.
That tale becomes the sad underbelly to hypertext inventor Ted Nelson’s optimistic allusion to water as a metaphor for flow of connectivity. Other notable talking heads in the docu include convicted hacker Kevin Mitnick and PayPal and Tesla entrepreneur Elon Musk.
As a filmmaker, Herzog’s always been a philosophical sort, especially in his documentary works, (a form he’s clearly gravitated more toward these days) where his inquisitive nature and naturalist style allow subjects to articulate the state of affairs in their own way. He’s not passive, mind you. With a thick yet inviting German accent, Herzog lobs barbed questions and then simply stands back. It’s what made his Antarctic sojourn “Encounters at the End of the World” (2007) and plumbing of Timothy Treadwell’s video diaries in “Grizzly Man” (2005) so compelling. He’s nowhere near Frederick Wiseman’s fly-on-the-wall cinema vérité, but does share the same pursuit of unadulterated truth and the innate ability to provoke, something that embosses a documentary’s value where others such as Michael Moore, for better or worse, might apply a heavily skewed hammering.
The leading snippet of the film’s title, “Lo and Behold,” comes smartly from the first Internet transmission between UCLA and Stanford, where the word “Logon” was to be formed in two parts (“Log” and “On”) by the two computers in the collaboration. A glitch, however, thwarted the victory lap as the initiating computer choked on the “O” in “Log” – thus “Lo.”
Of the innovative topics explored there’s cures for disease, autonomous cars as aforementioned and artificial intelligence. Herzog borders on hitting at Skynet, and visits a lab where robots in the style of BB-8 scurry about playing soccer quite efficiently. One of the scientists insists they will someday soon be able to trump top FIFA teams.
The more engrossing yarns are the more outlandish and personal, such as the South Korean marathon gamers who wear diapers so they don’t have to get up (and the physical perils of remaining sedentary for too long) or the unhealthy addictiveness of a life lived online and the group of technophobic folk who aggregate around an enormous telescope in West Virginia because its electromagnet requirements have turned the Appalachian hillside into a 10-mile cellular-free zone. You can only imagine the joy that Ted Kaczynski might have if he learned of such a tech-free Eden.
In the end, this journey that covers the map and throws in the kitchen sink doesn’t provide any more answers than what’s out there today. Even if it did, it’s not within Herzog’s wheelhouse to do so. The constant redirect to the viewer is his hook to engage and an invitation to contemplate. As rambling as the film and Herzog’s mind may seem at times, there’s a clear focus, form and intent. “Lo and Behold” ultimately becomes a quest for the documentable alterations to humanity and the human condition that have evolved in a nascent, virtually connected universe – and no matter how elusive that may be, Herzog remains doggedly at it to the very end, as he’s always been. And if you don’t believe that, drop “Burden of Dreams” (1982) and “Werner Herzog Eats his Shoe” (1980) into your viewing queue.