Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Werner Herzog investigates the internet in "Lo and Behold"

Werner Herzog’s latest documentary, Lo and Behold: Reveries Of The Connected World, explores the internet as it has evolved from its birth. The deep German cadence of his voice guides the viewer through a number of interviews with people who have been positively and negatively impacted by the internet. Herzog never shies away from the incredible or the bizarre in any of his documentaries.

The film is divided into ten parts, each exploring a different aspect of the internet. He dives into the world of the web head-first by exploring the early days of the internet and all of its amazing capabilities but still balancing the excitement and wonder of it invention with the stories of people who have been hurt by viral photos, hacking, internet addiction, and radiation sickness from radio waves.

While the documentary’s topic is intriguing, the beauty of the film takes it to the next level. Herzog traditionally focuses the camera on whomever is speaking, and he asks questions or interjects whenever the moment strikes him. But there are moments when he focuses the camera on other subjects outside of the interviews. A local bluegrass band, the water outside of an interviewee’s home, or a robot pouring a glass of orange juice act to slow down the pace of the film and allow the viewer to reflect on what they just heard. These moments are breaths of air until Herzog reignites the interview or moves on to another topic.

Two of the most intriguing interviews featured are with the developers of Eterna, an innovative computer game, and with Elon Musk, the developer of Tesla. Eterna was created by Carnegie Mellon University and Stanford University to help solve medical problems that have stumped scientists thus far. Users play by combining RNA molecules, and the results are tested and used for medical solutions. Though the game was designed to help in medical research, its simple design allows anyone to play.

While Herzog uses Eterna to show some of the achievements of the internet to date, Elon Musk’s interview explores more of the possibilities of where the internet could take humans, namely to establish colonies in outer space. In one of his more philosophical moments, Herzog questions if Musk has good dreams and then asks if the internet could ever dream of itself. Later he questions if with the influx of new technologies there should be a new definition of what it means to be human. Musk responds to each of Herzog’s theoretical questions with answers based in his own knowledge of technology, which provides the film with a dose of reality when Herzog can appear too abstract.

That’s the thing about Herzog documentaries that makes them so appealing. He is constantly and honestly involved in his films, a shift from the traditional approach in this genre. In each of his documentaries, he likes to explore more than just the stated topic of the film by digging into questions of humanity and human nature. Herzog adds depth to the people that he interviews by showcasing their quirky behaviors and by generally withholding judgment in his narrations, while his comments during interviews always show his own idiosyncratic side. This technique of simply presenting information to the viewer, without a clear thesis to the film, allows those he features to stand by themselves with their beliefs. The viewer can then make their own judgments about where technology and the internet are headed or choose to dive deeper and question how deeply the internet has become a part of our daily lives.

If anything, the task of interviewing the internet may have been too large a project for only 98 minutes. There are some points in the film that could have been explored deeper. For example, when Herzog interviews two young people with internet addictions, Herzog merely introduces the topic and then moves on without much background or elaboration.

For a filmmaker who so clearly wants to explore humanity within his films, it would have been interesting if he had spent more time on how internet addiction affects people’s behavior. To his credit, one of the patients did not wish to be pressed in her interview, and he respected that boundary. He does his best to explore the expanse of the internet in the time that he has, and overall the pace and depth of the film serve that purpose.

Herzog’s greatest strength and weakness is his complete belief in the importance of the questions he seeks to answer. In order to appreciate Lo and Behold, the viewer must buy into Herzog’s vision. I personally think he is a brilliant filmmaker. While I find his exploration to be enrapturing, others may find Herzog to be a bit pretentious. But if you’re willing to buy into Herzog’s approach and accept him for who he is as a filmmaker, Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World will not disappoint.

Grade: A-

Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World opens on Aug. 19 at Landmark E Street Cinema. 

thescene@theeagleonline.com


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