Werner Herzog surfs the Internet in his new documentary Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World. In the spirit of the film, POV offers a plugged-in, click-baity, and social media-friendly take on the new ’zog, which is his best doc in over a decade.
Here are ten reasons why Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World is Werner Herzog’s best film since Grizzly Man:
The panopticon. With cats. #TheInternetIn4Words— Werner Twertzog (@WernerTwertzog) July 18, 2016
1. His Genuine Inquisitiveness
Herzog is a self-described Luddite who checks his email/voicemail once a year and still relies on carrier pigeons to send his messages. This whole Internet thing is new to him and he approaches the subject with keen interest. Herzog’s genuine willingness to explore uncharted territory and to understand the nature of the Internet gives the film a sense of awe and wonder. Herzog is discovering something new and being overcome by its complexity.
2. The Openness and Objectivity
Herzog’s exploration weighs both the goodness and the evil of the internet. As scientists explain the possibilities of lighting fast communication and an unprecedented web of connectivity, Herzog learns the ills of the Internet, like the WiFi waves that cripple a community of American ex-pats taking solace in the Amazon, and the horrible wickedness it brings out in some people, respectfully chronicled in the tale of a family’s grief and a loss that became a viral torment.
Re-reading Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" for pointers about surviving the next decade.— Werner Twertzog (@WernerTwertzog) April 29, 2016
3. Robot Soccer
When humans play the sport, it’s mind-bogglingly boring. When robots play it, though, soccer’s a riotously fascinating feat of pointless human endeavour.
4. The Characters
Lo and Behold finds the humanity in extreme cases, like in the bereaved mother who solemnly calls the Internet the anti-Christ incarnate or a computer whiz who whips out a digital camera to take a picture of Herzog and his crew while the cameras are still rolling. The spirit of Grizzly Man’s Timothy Treadwell endures, however, in Leonard Kleinrock, the eccentric “Internet pioneer” who opens the film. Herzog must have grinned from ear to ear when this guy unbolted the doors of the lab and welcomed the crew. Kleinrock is a born storyteller who embellishes the story of the first message sent over the Internet with dramatic gusto as he talks about that divine “Lo” as an omen to the endless possibilities of this new discovery. But when he bangs on the machine, opens it up, and takes a big whiff of its aromatic insides, he resembles a true a kindred spirit to Herzog.
Coffee should not include whipped cream or sweet syrups. It should be a black, bitter foretaste of what we must face before the day is over.— Werner Twertzog (@WernerTwertzog) July 9, 2016
5. The Sense of Prophetic Grandeur
As the music by Wagner graces the film and Herzog’s voice of god narration splits the heavens, his playful curiosity reveals the complexities of the Internet that no mere mortal may explain or comprehend in its entirety. Monks piddle around on iPhones like hipsters possessed by Pokémon Go and Herzog encounters something that has connected and captured more humans than anything before. Whatever good or harm the World Wide Web may do, Herzog presents it as the largest epistemological monster that man has yet to tame.
6. Man vs. Machine
Where Grizzly Man confronts the divide between man and non-human animals, Lo and Behold considers the fine line that divides mortals and machines. As machines become smarter and people less so, artificial intelligence bridges the gap with the natural beings on the Earth. Herzog observes how the true perils of the Internet are all cases of human error or maliciousness, like online predators or gullible souls who may be easily sweet-talked into lending out secure access codes to shrewd hackers. The underlying thesis of the film is not that every computer is HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey or Eva from Ex Machina, but that what distinguishes humans from machines is our capacity for evil.
Man is born free, but everywhere he is checking work-related email.— Werner Twertzog (@WernerTwertzog) August 6, 2016
—Jean Jacques Rousseau
7. The Harmonious Pleasures of the Unplugged World
As someone who now spends more time per day navigating online communications than doing anything else, I hope that the guy who invented email died a horrible, terrible, and violently miserable death. Herzog affectionately longs for a world in which humankind unplugs forever as he visits refugees in an idyll state of nature free of Wi-Fi waves and Ethernet cables. What’s great about this scene isn’t so much the pain that the interviewees express as they detail their battle with Internet allergies, but the reminder that peer-to-peer connection once involved face-to-face communication.
8. He Embraces the Crazy
Herzog has always been a little mad, but Lo and Behold sees him at his eccentric peak, interjecting interviews with comments such as his eagerness to go to Mars. He frequently commits a documentary no-no by including his off camera voice as he interacts with subjects, calling them refugees, sympathising with their obsessions, and offering randomly hilarious hyperboles. (We all go a little mad sometimes.)
Pain and despair and Klaus Kinski and mountains,— Werner Twertzog (@WernerTwertzog) May 28, 2016
Bright shiny daggers and blood in red fountains,
Peruvian mummies, tied up with string…
9. Herzog Meets #Herzog
Werner Herzog might be the best auteur to fuel a meme or a parody account since @Michael_Haneke ripped jokes about ‘Terruns Malick,’ cat farts, and Ben Affleck’s failure to get an e-vite to Best Director bowling. With Lo and Behold, Herzog embodies every mannerism, eccentricity, nuance, and hilarious shade of hyperbole that fuels thousands upon thousands of GIFs, parodies, YouTube videos, and memes in which German-accented filmmakers wax prophetic. As Herzog muses about “malevolent druid dwarves” lurking around the 2.0 universe, one cannot help but smile and read a fond dedication to Reddit trolls everywhere.
10. It’s a Listicle
Herzog unfolds Lo and Behold in ten chapters. Ten quick bullet points serve the argument, rather than one long and exhausting essay. Everything needs to be condensed, simplified, and made easier to read for people with short attention spans. He totally gets the Internet and uses lingo of the web to prove it. TTYL, Werner!
Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World opens in select cities August 12. Please follow the POV blog for updates on listings and screenings
For a second take on Lo and Behold, read Jason Gorber’s Hot Docs review!