Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World (2016) / Documentary
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language and some thematic elements
Running Time: 98 min.
Cast: Werner Herzog (narrator), Kevin Mitnick, Elon Musk, Lawrence Krauss, Bob Kahn, Ted Nelson, Lucianne Walcowicz
Director: Werner Herzog
Review published October 11, 2016
Filmmaker and documentarian Werner Herzog (Aguirre the Wrath of God, Grizzly Man) continues his fascination with the current state of the planet Earth and its inhabitants with Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World, which seeks to show how the internet has changed the way human beings live and perceive one another, with advancements in technology that has been of great benefit to us all, while at the same time been a source of pain and angst for many others. Directing and narrating the piece, Herzog offers these reveries, these "daydreams and musings", in bite-sized vignettes, starting with the origin of the internet in a small laboratory on the UCLA campus in 1969 (the first transmission, meant to transmit the word "L-O-G" to another computer at Stanford University but crashed after the first two letters, forms the inspiration of the film's title), all the way to the possible future in potential settlements in space beyond Earth.
Herzog globe-hops around the world to interview a wide variety of subjects, from well-known industry pioneers and players who've promoted the technology that we are all connected to, to families that have been directly impacted by the internet for the worse. Delving into the inspiration that this all-new canvas by which we can paint our dreams promotes, there comes the nightmares: the addiction to the net that has ruined more than a few lives, the hypersensitivity to the electromagnetic pulses surrounding technology that cause people's health to deteriorate, the nastiness of the people who would send vile and traumatizing messages to others under the guise of anonymity and without fear of prosecution. The ills of the internet pile up for a bit in between the more glorious examples -- addiction, bullying, hacking, cyber-warfare are but some of the avenues explored, but they are personal enough in their stories to give one pause about the wonder of technology to make the world free of all troubles.
It's almost a given to state that this is all presented in a gorgeous and fascinating way, as Herzog always seems to know just how to frame his subjects in the ways in which their stories will enhance their individual stories. He stops by a small off-the-grid community in the Appalachian mountains to observe what they do when they can't be on the internet: what they've done for centuries -- dance, sing, play music and tell stories. He interviews a grief-stricken family whose gruesome photos of a beloved daughter and sister decapitated in a car accident were leaked and published all over the internet, perhaps seen and shared by millions, including, unfortunately, someone who decided to send them to the girls' father and further harass them in ways too disturbing for Herzog to ask them to rehash. Fresh-baked goods frame the family in the foreground to show that they are trying to give the semblance of normalcy even though the tragedy and subsequent evil acts toward them (the mother calls the internet the manifestation of the 'anti-Christ') has been a daily source of pain to them all.
Although there may not be an overall point to make within Lo and Behold to suggest Herzog has something in mind he wishes us to take away with us, the documentary remains fascinating as a snapshot of our current state of increasing dependence on the internet, how it has shaped both individuals and societies, as well as the dreams and fears we all share regarding our future in terms of the sophistication by which it has developed, perhaps becoming so dependent on it that we could experience a dark and tumultuous time if it all were to stop functioning one day. While some segments will likely be more interesting, entertaining and informative than others, the consummately unique auteur Herzog keeps the mix engaging and lively, and ponders fascinating questions even we might not be thinking at the time, catapulting Lo and Behold into another winning, time-capsule worthy documentary worth seeking out for all who want to theoretically 'behold' what the world might be like, both optimistically utopian and nightmarishly perilous, with or without the internet, both now and in the future.
©2016 Vince Leo