We all know of the internet’s famed dichotomy of venom and humanitarianism. It’s a fun house of rattling tails, painted faces, and matted fluff. From headline stories to erudite essays in national publications, we are all too familiar with the long shadows of the technology age. Here, one of our most masterful filmmakers, Werner Herzog, dips his feet into the abyss of zeros and ones. The internet is the perfect canvas for the German director to tap his baton upon: it’s omnipotent, terrifying, and yet a perfect resource in everyday life. The “connected world” has been discussed, ad nauseam, but Herzog uses his trademark lilt and grandfatherly wisdom to further till the pertinent topic of machines and mayhem.
The insatiably curious mind of Herzog is the figurehead on the bow of “Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World”. The director loves existentialism, question marks, and breathy poetry. Up to this point, all of the auteur’s films have been shaped by the finite nature of mortality. Human experiences against the landscape of monolithic trees (“Grizzly Man”) or sun bleached soda bottles (“Into the Abyss”). Things get a little more esoteric with the topography of the internet. Shapeless and against nature, the web is a clinical, beige backdrop that provides more toxicity than mysticism and romance – these are colors that Herzog isn’t used to painting with. There’s fewer opportunities for spatial awareness. Fewer moments for reflection.
The practically immeasurable depth of technological consequence is hard to conventionally lasso, make sense of in ordinary terms. With fraud, hackers, spam, identity theft at the tip of the sociopathic iceberg, immoral abscesses pile up like planks of wood against the positivity and philanthropic nature of man. Herzog puts his oven mitts on, and plunges his hands into the oven. The 73-year-old director has never shied away from difficulty, danger or detriment (he has eaten a shoe, taken a bullet, worked with obstinate actors), so the celebrated filmmaker is in his wheelhouse with “Lo and Behold” – and yet the documentary never entirely succeeds.
Most problematically is that Herzog touches on too many topics in ninety-minutes to accurately develop anything in his personal darkroom. Artificial intelligence, video game addiction, apocalyptic foreshadowing, hackers and internet anonymity are wheeled in and out of the frame like a dessert cart. At the end of the film we are left feeling less moved than we are frustrated. Alacrity and curiosity can rarely coexist. While being a decent exploration of modern life, there’s something incredibly disconcerting about an average documentary in such a talented man’s oeuvre.