Lo and Behold: Reveries Of The Connected World
Director: Werner Herzog
Running Time: 98 minutes
The cliché about Werner Herzog is that he’s far more eccentric than any of the mystics and madmen that his films tend to feature. With his dramatic (and easily imitated) Teutonic accent, actively bizarre (if extremely quotable) worldview, and decades’ worth of deeply unusual behaviour (which include everything from shrugging off being shot by a random sniper during an interview as it was “not a significant bullet”, to eating his own shoe on camera) he has long been an active character in his documentaries like no other filmmaker. You know exactly what you’re getting with a David Attenborough or Louis Theroux, but the main buzz of a Herzog doc (even beyond the fact that he’s a damn good documentarian) is the prospect of another glimpse into the man’s worldview, however surreal.
In Lo And Behold Herzog (who has a reputation as something of a luddite.) gets to grips with the internet, bringing his camera and his offbeat interpretations onto the internet past and future. We begin in what Herzog describes as the “revolting corridors” of the campus of UCLA, the “birthplace of the internet, where professor Leonard Kleinrock offers a peek inside the first computer to interact remotely with another computer, in the autumn of 1969. However any assumptions that the documentary will offer a straight historical timeline of the internet soon goes out the window. Lo and Behold was originally commissioned as a series rather than a single feature and this initial conception has left its mark on the structure of the film which is split into ten separate sections. These disparate vignettes focus on everything from programming human ethics into self-driving cars to a rehab centre for gaming addiction; the episodic nature of these segments make Lo and Behold feel noticeably scattershot in the early part of the film. The only thing that anchors the docs constituent sections together is Herzog’s personality, guilelessly asking scientists whether “the internet dreams of itself?” or silencing Elon Musk, but deadpan volunteering himself for a one way trip to Mars. With a lesser director this would be perilously close to shtick, but there is something oddly pure about Herzog’s way of looking at the world that somehow discourages such an interpretation.
After the first 20 minutes however’ Lo and Behold’ finds its groove, the tagline Reveries Of The Connected World is an apposite one as Herzog is far more interested in riffing on some of the more outré philosophical implications of the internet than tying things up in a bow. This is actually a smarter way of approaching the dauntingly dense subject of the internet than attempting to squeeze a lifetime’s worth of material into a 98 minute documentary. Herzog’s unique approach coaxes more intriguing interviews out of the various boffins he has assembled, by virtue of his non-standard lines of questioning. Whether mulling over the potential of solar flares to plunge us back to the stone age or on a grieving mother’s declaration that the internet is the literal anti-christ, Herzog approaches his reveries with steely precision and a complete lack of judgement or criticism (the closest he comes is a disappointment that one of patients at the game addiction clinic refuses to talk about her online character which he refers to as a “malevolent Druid dwarf.”). Whilst the musings almost playfully surreal tone might prove off-putting for those hoping for a more straight documentary, those who are prepared to go along with Herzog’s mental leaps and obsessions will find plenty of intriguing insights to behold.