Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World is one of the three Werner Herzog films to be released in 2016. In ten chapters, Herzog examines an array of topics related to the internet—and the connected world—from its inception and early days to current issues and implications for the future.
The Forecast… This is a survey documentary; and yet, its form needn’t be revolutionary for this film to be eminently interesting. Herzog has a keen eye and sense for fascinating stories and interview subjects, and this translates into an intriguing 98 minutes of screen time. Anyone with a remote interest in technology will likely find this documentary informative, entertaining and thought-provoking—and, if there’s anything that everyone should have a vested interest in, it’s our technology and their corollaries. As for those who have a better understanding of tech—aficionados or industry alike—this documentary may cover familiar territory, but there is perhaps an allure found in Herzog’s line of inquiry into the corollaries of the internet and our interconnected world. Having said that, because of the nature of this film (in that it is a survey), it may be better suited to a layperson than an audience that works in the field. This documentary boasts interviews with a veritable cast of who’s who among the tech world—including UCLA internet pioneer Leonard Kleinrock, the famous hacker Kevin Mitnick, and Space X entrepreneur Elon Musk, which is just to name a few—amongst the commoner folk who occupy danker corners of the net, like gaming addicts; and those who opt out of the grid entirely, such as the individuals afflicted by electromagnetic hypersensitivity. Each subject will offer a unique interpretation and point of view on the internet and each is sincere—sometimes, heart-achingly so.
The Skinny… With the sheer number of subjects that Herzog interviews, viewers shouldn’t expect to spend a whole lot of time with any given group of people. However what Lo and Behold does achieve is to present a cross-section, or a highlight reel of sorts, of the evolution of the interconnected world. Various concepts and themes are explored throughout this documentary and perhaps the most overarching concept Herzog explores involves examining how humans interact with the interconnectedness that the internet has afforded us. Examples range from the magnificent—like EterRNA—to the appalling—like online harassment—to even the fantastical—like the previously mentioned subjects afflicted by electromagnetic hypersensitivity. All the while, Herzog is never too preoccupied to forget just how fragile this network is; and, if the fragility of our technology-based societies does not incite fear, then perhaps allow Lo and Behold to plant that seed. That being said, Lo and Behold is not fear-mongering propaganda. As most of the interview subjects are scientists and researchers, many of whom seem to be cautious optimists and dreamers, their projections are hopeful, if at times a bit quixotic—which, is no more a trait of scientists as it is just human nature to be a bit impractically irrational. Additionally, as Herzog’s interview subjects are largely open-minded, intellectually curious individuals, this opens up the floor for discourse of a more esoteric nature where topics can include questions such as: Could the internet start to dream of itself? Could the internet develop artificial intelligence? And though there, of course, are no good answers, these are nonetheless striking thought experiments.
The Metadata… This documentary is unequivocally a Herzog documentary, which is to say that his signatures are scattered throughout this film. He demonstrates a reverence and natural curiosity towards his subjects and his subject matter. He has an eye for arresting images. He has a peculiar sense of humor and comedic delivery. All of this is to say that this is a welcome addition to his oeuvre of documentaries examining how humans interact with nature, of which, technology and the internet have become inextricably linked.
A thoughtful survey of the birth and evolution of the internet.
Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected Worldis featured on Borrowing Tape's Best Films of 2016 list.