“I think anyone who claims they know what’s going to happen to the internet is not worth listening to.” This summation of the way we understand and can predict the interconnectivity of the future seems an apposite way to begin a discussion of Werner Herzog’s expansive, nebulous investigation in Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World. The notion that we can’t really know anything is catnip for a director who revels in intricate philosophical enquiry. Audiences undoubtedly excited by the lip-smacking prospect of an intent documentary from the man who asked a journalist, baffled, whether Pokémon GO resulted in murder.
Over ten chapters with titles like ‘Life Without the Net’, ‘The Glory of the Net’, and ‘The Dark Side’ his investigations constitute a wealth of talking heads discussing various aspects of the technological revolution. It all begins with the internet’s first node, a wardrobe sized computer at UCLA which sent its first ever message – intended to type ‘login’, the connection crashed after ‘lo’, inspiring the film’s biblical title. Herzog’s sonorous Bavarian voiceover likens the room to a shrine and his trademark choral opening music lends a sense of ecstasy to this big bang; let there be light. Unsurprisingly, Herzog is not interested in a hagiography of the communication age but in probing its more esoteric corners.
Herzog delights in the effusive explanations of a young programmer for whom the football playing ‘Robot 8’ is as beloved as Lionel Messi is to Barcelona fans. You can also hear the smile in his voice at the refusal to give up from one of the web’s earliest visionaries whose idea of hyperlinks was never adopted; he has an air of one of Herzog’s single-minded and obsessive protagonists about him. The director’s puckish side also comes to the fore as he stumps computer experts with questions like whether the internet dreams of itself, repurposing Clausewitz supposition about war. The digital revolution is a double-edged sword and Herzog seeks our reflections in the blade from all angles.
“I have always believed that the internet is a manifestation of the Antichrist,” says a mother when talking about a horrifying incident in which images of her daughter’s body went viral after a fatal car crash. Her statement may be extreme but her underlying position that the internet facilitates humanities worst traits is probably comparable to Herzog’s philosophy, though without the moral judgement. The film does relay stories about people neglecting their children while compulsively online or suffering physically or psychologically due to immobile addiction.
The most touching case comes in the form of a woman who has an adverse reaction to mobile radiation and emotively explains how she has had to remove herself from a modern society dominated by cell towers – including from friends and family. Of course, for Herzog it is people that matter and he’s just as fascinated by Elon Musk’s gazing at the stars as those battering their keyboards or avoiding them altogether.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson