Werner Herzog is nothing if not utterly audacious. Ignoring his incredible career as a narrative filmmaker, we can isolate his career just to his documentaries and still see an incredible filmmaker at work. He has covered some vast subjects, such as criminals on death row (Into the Abyss), explorers in Antarctica (Encounters at the End of the World), Timothy Treadwell, the bear enthusiast that died doing what he loved (Grizzly Man), and perhaps his most difficult subject, his own collaborator and friend Klaus Kinski (My Best Fiend).
Now in his 28th documentary feature film, Herzog takes on his most grandiose subject – the one thing that quite literally connects the entire world – the Internet. Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World is by far one of Herzog’s most audacious projects.
The Internet, for something that hasn’t even been around for a century, is strangely complicated, and I was doubtful anyone would be able to fit an entire overview of the Internet – from its genesis to its place in the contemporary world – into a single film. However, if there was one person to do it, it would be Herzog, who uses his own assured documentarian talents to give us a look into the Internet, from beginning to end, and how it plays a role in the lives of people all around the world. Neither hopeful nor bleak, it is a straightforward and direct summary of the Internet, but with Herzog’s signature flair for humour and looking at his subjects with a slightly cynical view, which differentiates this film from something you’d see thrown together on The Discovery Channel.
The internet is a subject far too grand to actually look in-depth at anything. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the Internet is almost infinite. Yet Herzog manages to neatly cover the entire history of the Internet in Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, and while he doesn’t dwell on anything for too long, he also doesn’t gloss over too much either. He presents a neat little odyssey of arguably the greatest invention of the 20th century (well, other than the polio vaccination obviously). Part of this is because Herzog always makes his documentary films as if he is making narrative film – he makes it somewhat chronological and neatly divides it into chapters, showing the evolution of the Internet through various discussions of the Internet itself and through interviews with people affected by the Internet – both positive and negative, allowing a fascinating portrait of the subject.
I consider myself to be someone who is somewhat progressive in terms of the future, and as we all know, if we are looking towards the future, it is always the Internet that is right there in the forefront, because there is an obsession with using the Internet for futuristic matters – and it is so easy to think of the Internet as just being that place where we watch videos and post on social media. It is obvious that there is something far deeper regarding the Internet than just YouTube and Twitter. Herzog makes sure to show, through interviews with such luminaries as Elon Musk, that the Internet is something far more serious and grandiose than we can ever imagine – but that it is also a place of rabid experimentation, as we can see there are those that attempt to use the internet for space travel, and then there are those that try and use the internet to get robots to play soccer.
Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World is such a layered film, but we can divide it into three major chapters. The first is the Internet of the Past. This is one of my favourite aspects of the film, because I loved the way the inception of the Internet, and how it came to be the gargantuan cultural, social and economic titan that it is. To be perfectly honest, the best part of this film was right at the beginning, where Leonard Kleinrock, a computer engineer that was present at the very few moment the Internet was invented, discusses the moment it came to be. It is thrilling, interesting and sent chills down my spine, because to just hear how the Internet came to be was just so damn fascinating. Discussions about the history of the Internet are definitely this film’s strongest factor.
The second chapter is the Internet of the Present, and this is a slightly frightening one. Through discussions with various civilians – such as a family that lost their daughter and had to face the cruelty of anonymous Internet users, or people living in seclusion after being physically damaged by the radiation of the Internet. This is quite a frightening aspect of the film, because it does show the dark side of the Internet, and while Herzog doesn’t manage to delve too deeply into the more unfavourable qualities of the Internet, he does manage to create a warning that while the Internet is wonderful, there are those that are negatively affected by it, through the use of it by damaged and demented people. Herzog manages to interview Kevin Mitnick, another fascinating figure who is perhaps the most famous hacker to ever live, and through their discussion, it proves that the Internet is a powerful tool, and allowing it to fall into the wrong hands can be disastrous.
The third chapter if The Internet of the Future, and this part felt slightly incomplete, but that isn’t the fault of Herzog, nor is it a flaw at all. There is simply no way of seeing where the Internet will lead us, and if this film is to be trusted, there is hope that the Internet will continue to grow and change the world in ways we can’t imagine. Elon Musk, who is interviewed, is changing the world, and he knows the true scope of the Internet and how it has the capacity to completely change the fabric of humanity. To try and predict all the innovations and inventions that can come out of the Internet is nearly impossible, but those interviewed in this film do know one thing – it is going to be a wild journey to get there, without a shadow of a doubt, and we should both be excited and terrified at the concept of the Internet becoming even more powerful than it is today.
For better or for worse, the Internet is something grandiose and impossible to fully encapsulate. It is infinite and far more complex than we can ever imagine. Herzog brings his classic sardonic wit and experience as a documentarian to this film, which is a wonderful exploration of something so many of us take for granted. It is a delightfully funny, interesting documentary that I will say is required viewing for anyone who has the Internet as a part of their life. We take this entity for granted, and we might as well know about its history, its present and where it will go in the future.