Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World Review

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There’s a moment in Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World – Werner Herzog’s documentary on the very broad subject of the Internet – in which the director’s voice is heard from behind the camera asking the question, “Do you love it?”. He is talking to a young man who designs and builds robots that play football and the ‘it’ in question is one of the robots, which looks like a small square dustbin with wheels. Without hesitation the engineer fires back an emphatic, “Yes!”. It’s one of those moments that we have come to expect from a Werner Herzog documentary and one which you could probably use the phrase ‘Herzogian’ to describe. The reason this stands out so much and why Herzog has carved such a unique voice in documentaries – one might even go so far as to use the word ‘brand’ – is because this is not the question any other interviewer would have asked in this circumstance. And as a result we get an answer and an emotional response that we never would have seen otherwise. And therefore we are encouraged to think about something different and possibly even learn something new.

A similar thing happens when Herzog later asks two brain researchers whether they think that at some point there will come a time when the “Internet begins to dream of itself”. They look bemused and even shocked, but also genuinely engaged with the question, and after a long pause they answer.

Interview subjects frequently walk into interviews with pre-prepared answers or a routine that they reel off when asked particular, expected questions, and Herzog is a master at breaking this down and finding some undiscovered gem of an answer. Lo and Behold is full of these, frequently coming from experts, engineers and scientists who deal in rational thought and most likely generally have no interest in wild speculation or flights of fancy. This slight friction makes for a number of incredibly fun, unusual and unexpected exchanges.

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Herzog also goes down expected routes with Lo and Behold – although never down an entirely straight path – including discussions of Internet security, the fragility of the Internet and the kinds of nasty, trolling behaviour that can be found online. The latter is starkly brought into focus in an interview with the family of a girl who died in a car accident. Following her death, photos of her corpse were leaked online and deliberately sent to her parents. Herzog speaks to her family in their home, with the entire family in one frame, almost motionless in a grim tableau. The parents feelings towards the online world are negative and the mother even goes so far as to say that the Internet is the antichrist.

Lo and Behold swings between wild pronouncements like this and more positive tales of what the Internet could mean for the human race, but there’s the definite sense that Herzog enjoys hearing about and giving a voice to the more wildly negative views than the positive ones, and whilst he frequently interjects, he doesn’t outright challenge any statements or views. A sequence in which he interviews ‘EHS sufferers’, for instance, is never countered with a doctor’s view on the condition – you’d probably be hard pressed to find many that recognise it – despite one of the sufferers directly addressing this. Lo and Behold is not an investigative documentary though, or a film intended for education. It’s a conversation starter, an eye-opener, and a way of making you think about the world around you and the one online.

Engaging with the ideas in Lo and Behold makes for an incredibly rewarding experience, and whilst the subject of ‘the Internet’ is far too great for any documentary to cover in anything like a complete fashion, Herzog instead invites us to engage with what he finds interesting about the subject. A fascinating and unique take on one of the most important things to ever happen to the human race.

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