In the opening scene of Werner Herzog’s documentary about the wide ranging scope and social immersion of what we now know as ‘the internet,’ a computer scientist stands next to a hulking mass of machinery that served as one of the first computer terminals built as part of the ‘Arpanet’ in the 60’s.
Resembling a transformer that powers a city block rather than the compact, sleek accumulations we recognize today, the scientist suddenly begins wildly pounding on the sides of the terminal to show its sturdiness and invincibility. This slightly unhinged moment serves as the perfect trademark for Herzog’s long filmmaking career as he routinely deconstructs the idiosyncrasies and madness within the mundane. It’s not quite Klaus Kinski dragging a boat over a mountain, but in another reality, one can certainly imagine this scientist demanding more from this inanimate object of wires and switches.
Herzog also narrates his latest film, titled Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World, with the same passionate and ponderous voice over that’s accompanied many of his latest features. It’s unmistakable in the way he asks questions, plays with words and teases the audience in his stout German voice. It’d be wise to say a Herzog voice over is pretty much worth the price of admission alone.
But there’s more on Herzog’s mind here then teasing and playing. Divided into three distinct chapters (with wry sub chapters built into each one), Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connect World attempts to examine the internet and its blessings/curses upon mankind. Beginning with a short history lesson on its creation in the late 60’s, Herzog soon becomes more interested in the complicated fluidity into society and its ramifications rather than the nuts-and-bolts of the technology; call it more philosophical than informational.
The middle section of the film, which is actually the weakest, focuses on several groups of people who’ve had adverse reactions to this new technology. One family, whose daughter was killed in a car accident and were subsequent victims of vicious online “trolling” about the accident, are followed by a short diversion by a group of people who claim to be physically sick from all the signals, waves and digital footprints floating around them. Forced to live in a remote part of the Northwest free from telephone poles and electricity grids, they play banjo, sing and live a communal existence.
Returning to a more hopeful outlook, the final third of the film interviews leading technological innovators and shows the exploding creativity in the field of robotics. A long stretch is devoted to college students designing Roomba-like robots that play soccer with artificial intelligence. Herzog goads the leading student to talk about his creation, asking him if he “loves” his robot. The student eventually admits he does love the thing and its yet another way Herzog gently adds layers of deception over the routine.
If Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World does feel a bit scattershot and uneven at times in the way it fumbles over a variety of ideas, it is ultimately held together by the sheer will of its intentions to truly examine an idea from all sides of the argument. As I sit here writing this on the internet, I’m tempted to say I love this inanimate object as well.
Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, August 26 at the Texas Theatre in Oak Ciff.