“Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World” delves into the gargantuan universe of the internet, with explorer-poet-philosopher Werner Herzog as our guide.
Even at his most conventional (that’s the case here), Herzog goes places cinema hasn’t quite gone before. This documentary is an intricate, informative overview of online communication combined with a scary man-vs.-machine nonfiction chiller.
Using talking heads to explain the many facets of his subject, Herzog has organized the film into 10 parts. Areas of focus include artificial intelligence, cyberspace security, robotics and hackers.
His familiar German-accented voiceover and trademark blend of curiosity, awe, humor and occasional goofball profundity add cohesion and character.
In the beginning, there was a UCLA computer and a Stanford University computer that, on Oct. 29, 1969, were linked electronically in what was the first incidence of computer-to-computer communication. Herzog visits Leonard Kleinrock and others involved in the milestone event. The now dinosauric UCLA computer receives a reverential close-up.
Herzog goes on to cover both bright and dark aspects of the internet.
Robotics notable Sebastian Thrun talks about the intelligent nature of self-driving cars, while Herzog questions whether the machines can make moral decisions.
Adrien Treuille, cofounder of the computer game Foldit, describes how users made medically beneficial discoveries when manipulating an online RNA molecular structure.
Less upbeat are visits with recovering online-game addicts and a grieving family anguished by the sick online exploitation of the car-crash death of their 18-year-old daughter.
Other speakers detail vulnerability to not only terrorists but solar flares. A shutdown of the Internet, which keeps everything from commerce to food supplies flowing, would be disastrous, astronomer Lucianne Walkowicz notes.
In cell-tower-free Green Bank, W.Va., Herzog talks to banjo-playing astronomer Jay Lockman and to people who discuss having moved to the isolated place to recover from a cellular-emission-triggered disease.
Hacker Kevin Mitnick and billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk also weigh in. Herzog, suggesting a documentary we’d love to see, says he wants to be travel to Mars on the flight Musk is planning.
Herzog provides no shockers. The film is less penetrating, fascinating and affecting than his movies “Grizzly Man” and “Cave of Forgotten Dreams.”
Still, he’s incapable of being shallow or uninteresting. He has a cast of inspired people, and he shapes their stories and insights into a compelling and human picture of how the internet has grown into a massive entity whose exhilarating promise is outweighed by its destructive potential.
“Does the Internet dream of itself?” asks the director, sealing the film’s status as a Herzog film.
Lo and Behold
Starring Werner Herzog, Leonard Kleinrock, Jay Lockman, Lucianne Walkowicz, Elon Musk
Directed by Werner Herzog
Running time 1 hour, 38 minutes