LO AND BEHOLD, REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED WORLD Review
Director: Werner Herzog
Many people are not aware of the fact that renowned POKEMON GO commentator Werner Herzog actually moonlights as a legendary film director. With a career spanning over five decades and nearly 50 features to his name, Herzog has built himself a reputation for being one of the most important filmmakers of the modern era. Some of his credits include award-winning documentary GRIZZLY MAN and the horror classic NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE. He was even named one of the 100 most influential people on the planet by TIME Magazine in 2009. Werner’s latest movie, just one of his three directing efforts to be released this year, is the documentary LO AND BEHOLD, REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED WORLD, a meditation on the Internet.
The film starts by showing us the very lab where the first successful computer experiments were conducted, namely on UCLA’s campus in 1969. This scene functions as an interesting framing device which allows you to take something as commonplace as the Internet out of context and look at it objectively, a necessary step for the film’s story. If Werner chose to take the conventional documentary path, which is painting its subjects as either “good” or “bad,” it simply would not work. Today, the Internet is a public good. To argue that it is inherently good or bad would be like arguing that subways or running water is good or bad. That is to say, basically pointless.
“I once hacked USC using a refrigerator”
Instead, Herzog shows us people whose lives have been both saved and ruined by the Internet. We hear testimonies by everyone from radiation-sensitives, who have resorted to living in the woods just to escape technology, to SpaceX founder Elon Musk. We are given glimpses of technological advancements coming in the near future, such as an all-robot professional soccer team and digital dream recreation. Then, we are told horror stories like one by a Department of Justice cyber-security employee, who claims that a hacker with the right knowledge could render every cellphone in the country useless by simply altering the orbits of certain satellites.
All in all, what the film gets right is painting a nuanced picture of this technology that most people are still struggling to understand. The Internet is such a powerful tool that the implications of its existence have already altered the path of the species permanently. What we decide to do with it in the coming years has the potential to make or break our society. The more hopeful testimonies are inspiring, while the negative ones pack enough weight to put the fear of God back into your heart. That being said, LO AND BEHOLD is far from perfect.
It’s also a SKYNET origin story
From a storytelling standpoint, there is something to be desired. Any good documentary is only as good as the character at its center. In GRIZZLY MAN, it was the charismatic nature enthusiast Timothy Treadwell. LO AND BEHOLD attempts to force the Internet into the character role, which never quite works. The subject is so familiar that it fails to capture your attention in the same way that a man sticking his hand in bear feces does. Much of the second act’s focus on Internet dependence feels like it could’ve been an excerpt from an episode of MY STRANGE ADDICTION. But that’s not to say that it isn’t interesting; it simply lacks the unique voice from some of Herzog’s other work.
Some may find LO AND BEHOLD to be less accessible or interesting than the director’s more notable works. However, fans of the director will appreciate his trademark beautiful imagery and knack for finding a relatable human story in the most unlikely of places. More generally, fans of documentary filmmaking will enjoy the nuanced, even story that he tells.