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Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World
To call Werner Herzog a legend would be an understatement. The director has been listed by TIME magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and beloved critic Roger Ebert has said that “Even his failures are spectacular”. Herzog is the brains behind the Rogue Film School, an organisation teaching students how to pick locks and forge shooting permits. He once said he’d eat his shoe if Errol Morris ever finished making a movie about pet cemeteries. Morris did finish the film, and not only did Herzog cook and eat his shoe, but he recorded the event and had it made into a short film, titled ‘Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe’. He’s is not only a visionary, but a director with integrity and a sense of humour. This lengthy introduction to the filmmaker is necessary, because his personality informs not only the way he explores his subject matter, but how he chooses to present it.
Lo and Behold sees Herzog take on the internet, something which is has always proved difficult to depict on screen. Herzog avoids clichéd, unconvincing, or otherwise trashy representations of the net by focussing on the people who use it. Really this is a film about us – how we depend on the internet, and how the internet depends on us.
Herzog introduces us to an eclectic ensemble, including scientists, recluses, football-playing robots, a hacker who has spent a year in solitary confinement, government officials waging literal cyber-warfare, and billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, who seriously discusses the possibility of establishing an internet on Mars.
The film bounces hyperactively from one subject to another, but never feels chaotic. What holds it together is Herzog himself. His enigmatic persona, hypnotic voice, and genuine fascination with the subject make any viewer willing to follow him wherever his mind wanders next.
In the past, films about ‘the internet’ have let themselves down by trying to leave viewers with some kind of profound message, often a warning about the dangers of the internet. Not only are these messages patronising, they’re also entirely misinformed. These films fail because they try to make concrete statements about something which is fluid and constantly evolving. In Lo and Behold, Herzog never forget that the internet is something we don’t yet fully understand. He doesn’t try to ‘explain’ the internet. He just marvels at it.
Often, Herzog highlights opposing extreme viewpoints and lets his viewers decide for themselves where the truth lies. Through masterful interview technique, precise plotting and carefully-crafted camerawork, Herzog has the power to frighten his viewers, or to make them laugh.
Watching Lo and Behold feels like aimlessly surfing the internet – in a good way. It immerses us in one world, then suddenly picks us up and throws us into another. The range of content covered is staggering. Ultimately, however, nothing is ever resolved. This is the film’s biggest strength. You’ll feel like you’ve only seen the start of what the internet is capable of being. The best, or perhaps the worst, is yet to come.