Werner Herzog‘s dulcet tones ripple from the screen, warming the audience with his distinctive Herzogian accent and lolling cadence. His latest topic of interest: the internet. As can be expected of the revered German filmmaker and documentarian, Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World is a thoughtful study of the past, present and future of this thing we call the internet; how it originated, how it binds us, and how it could lead to the end of times.
What must be Herzog’s 20th documentary is divided into ten chapters, giving it a near holistic sense of breadth, each of which explores a different perspective of the discussion on the internet. Some chapters are more appealing than others (some of the most tech-heavy jargon can buck off the tech-ignorant like myself) but when stacked upon one another, they create a good sense of the varied complications of the issue. The Grizzly Man-directing auteur is extends equal measure to both the great promises and inherent risks of the internet and our increasing dependence upon it, sneaking in a fair measure of his hyper-observant, highly comic asides because a Herzog would feel empty with that.
He juxtaposes scenes of unchecked possibility – a Carnegie Melon tech guru shows off his autonomous soccer-playing pet robots (which he expects will be able to beat any FIFA team by 2050) or a Indian engineer explaining the vastly complex and yet elegantly straight-forward design of a self-driving car – against the weighty dangers of both now – the anonymity of depraved internet hackers and trolls or those unfortunate electromagnetic hypersensitive few who have been forced into relative hermitdom, holed away from the signals of society – and the future – one professor explains that were the internet to crash indefinitely, our threatened access to clean food and water would quickly lead to billions perishing.
The origin of the film’s title comes from engineer and internet originator Leonard Kleinrock‘s playful anecdote. And to quickly pause, it’s probably best to think of Herzog’s film like a guided tour through the annals of the web’s many colored contributors, and Kleinrock is easily one of his most interesting character. At the inception of the internet, back when singular host-to-host access was the bell of the ball, Kleinrock attempted to send a simple message, “Log”, across a 400-mile California stretch. Only the first two letters were able to send before that ancient version of the internet crashed. Accordingly, “Lo” was the first message ever sent using the internet. As Klenrock remarks, “Lo and behold.” Lo and behold is right.
In effect, Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World functions as both a celebration of all that we’ve managed to accomplish with the aid of the internet and a glaring warning sign. It speaks to the great possibility of the future and the exponentially growing risk associated with putting all our eggs in one cyber-basket. But more than anything, it’s a meditative think-piece poised to have its audience ponder the matter on their own time.
CONCLUSION: ‘Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World’ is classic, if not top-tier, Herzog. Poignant, analytical, wide-spanning and cutting; the kind of documentary that’ll leave you thinking long, long after it fades to black.