Hot Docs Review: Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (2016, Werner Herzog)


In a world where the amount of data and content produced online every day could, when burned on cd and stacked, reach to Mars and back, October 29th, 1969 seems a moment long out of date and insignificant. But, as Werner Herzog establishes in the first minutes of Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, on that very date, at UCLA, the internet was born.

For those returning to Herzog’s documentary work, there will be many familiar effects; and for those coming to the auteur for the first time, the themes will carry viewers into the filmmaker’s most comfortable zones of discussion: sublime forms found in the world, the ludicrous hubris and astounding errors of human life, and truths that often move through our days like icebergs, happily unseen.

The prospect of historicizing and documenting something as fluid as the internet is a haphazard enterprise, as the one constant online seems to be that multiplicity is king. The most cohesive moments of Lo come from those first repulsive corridors and revolutionary ideas in UCLA, back when the military grade network of the internet even had a phone book, listing each user’s email and full name. But once the world wide web hit, once the whole world went online, things became cosmic and unreal within a short period of time. It is this sublimity of content and intent that fuels Herzog’s investigation.

Lo and Behold‘s study of the new, intertwingled universe takes viewers on a journey across the old, geographically-minded earth. Herzog interviews internet savant Tim Nelson, self-driving car prophet Sebastian Thrun, infamous hacker Kevin Miltnick, technology rejectionists, cell tower conspiracists, and he even shares a rather tender moment with Elon Musk, pondering whether the internet has dreams.

It’s interesting, this unbound sense of futuristic opportunity and the overly humble origins of a technology that rests at the heart of it. Many of the old school coders and engineers found in that early phone book of the internet speak of the pervasive network like an old friend, allowing Herzog to play up the humanity of something as cold as wires and servers.

Fans of some of Herzog’s more recent, popular documentaries like Grizzly Man, Encounters at the End of the World, or Cave of Forgotten Dreams may feel themselves in shallow water here. Lo and Behold has a broad focus, many interviews, and that does diminish the impact of each subject’s speechifying. But there is a different emphasis being placed in this documentary, and shows a growth of perspective on the part of the filmmaker. The story being told is of a humanity caught up within an artifice, pushing it ever-forward, often refusing to question the practicality of such a boggling speed of technological development. I’ll certainly never think of solar flares again the same way after watching this film. Gulp.

Lo and Behold is not so much a documentary, as a report, back from the edges of technological outer reaches — the place where both sides of the unimaginable become reality. The incredilble and the deeply troubling.

Posted on by Jack Derricourt in Hot Docs