'Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World'
“The internet, man. It’s a blessing and a curse, isn’t it? Like, we’re all so much more connected these days, but don’t you feel like it’s also pushing us apart? Isn’t that crazy?” Chances are you’ve had a conversation like that, but hopefully in a way that sounds slightly less stupid. It’s a theme that we can’t help but ponder these days given how quickly and irrevocably the world has changed, and one that can only be discussed in the abstract since we’re still too deep in the midst of a technological revolution to understand its ultimate impact. Still, these things are fascinating to consider, particularly when filtered through a mind as brilliantly cracked as Werner Herzog’s. The great director and lovable eccentric went ahead and made a documentary specifically about our digitally obsessed world. Unsurprisingly, the guy approaches the internet with more than a little healthy skepticism.
‘Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World’ is perhaps a predictably episodic and poetically rambling effort from Herzog. He clearly approached the movie and subject from a place of general fascination, and didn’t impose any sort of thesis onto the project as he went around collecting interviews and stories. The documentary is more an exploration of different ideas and people who intrigued him. The tone bounces from joyous fascination to questioning misanthropy. It’s not even particularly clear how engaged Herzog is himself with internet culture, and it would come as no surprise if he doesn’t even have an email address. He seems to approach the material as a total outsider entranced by the minutiae of the technology and terrified of the directions that it could be heading. But hey, that’s Herzog for you. Anything less would be a disappointment.
The journey begins in the bowels of the UCLA science department (traveling through a corridor that Herzog hilariously describes as “repulsive”) where the internet was created. We get a brief discussion of the origins of this mass communication system, and then the movie seems to follow whatever whim tickled the filmmaker’s imagination. There’s a tragic interview with a family who were relentlessly cyber-bullied with graphic photos of their daughter’s corpse, a strange chat with a woman forced to moved to the wilderness because she’s physically allergic to cell phone signals, diversions into the field of robotics with the director questioning when they will take over humanity (conclusion: not soon), a trip to a rehab facility for internet addition, and a few other equally bizarre tangents (even a fascinating but fairly off-topic passage on space travel included for reasons known only to the director).
The individual episodes never quite congeal into a clear central focus, and Herzog’s thoughtful narration never really comes to any conclusions. The subject is simply too vast for that, particularly given the incredibly diverse range of subjects that he follows. Instead, the doc plays more like a survey of a strange world and a collection of people who simply didn’t exist 50 years ago. It’s Herzog dipping into the internet and finding the pockets of eccentric personalities, painful realities, and surreal possibilities that tickle his very particular mind.
‘Lo and Behold’ is not some sort of grand statement about internet culture and the strange directions where it may or may not be headed. It’s a portrait of a world that’s constantly growing in culture and strangeness from a man whose perspective is simply unlike anyone else’s. The movie has laughs (both deliberate and accidental), tears and a seemingly endless stream of confounding ideas to ponder long after this strange little project disappears from the screen. In short, it’s the movie about the internet that only Werner Herzog could have made. Even if it’s not a definitive documentary on the subject, there’s real pleasure to be had just listening to this completely unique artist grapple with a topic neither he nor any viewer completely understands, even though we’re all entrapped by it.