Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World expresses filmmaker Werner Herzog’s reveries and repulsions about the Internet. For a guy who refuses to own a cell phone, it’s a mash-up of talking heads the non-techhie outsider finds amusing, like hyperlink creator Ted Nelson, hacker Kevin Mitnick, education disrupter and self-driving car inventor Sebastian Thrun, and SpaceX founder Elon Musk. along with a few solid computer scientists like Internet co-inventor Leonard Kleinrock and AI expert Danny Hillis to ground the film in reality.
Herzog has a sly style, similar to that of Errol Flynn’s: he focuses the camera right onto his subject’s face, then lingers there for a few seconds after the subject ceases to talk. The afterlife portrait seems to reveal a hidden layer of emotion, which makes a viewer feel uneasy, the way the motion on a boat often confuses one’s perception to cause nausea. What Elon Musk just told you about flying to Mars in case the planet Earth becomes uninhabitable some day soon induces a queasiness after the camera lingers on his almost horror-stricken face.
For cheap thrills, one of the ten segments of the film focuses on a ghoulish family of four, posed immobile around a dining room table with the parents standing above their three daughters. The heavily made-up daughters resemble beautiful corpses, and their father talks about how the Internet destroyed their lives. When one of his daughters – about to go into a mental institution – takes the family Porsche and drives it to her death, someone passing by captures her severed head on camera and emails it to dad. Not only that, the photo is widely circulated on the Internet and the family can’t get it removed. Mom claims the Internet is really the devil incarnate. This is where Herzog shines: in depicting American fanatics, like the Grizzly Man in a previous film.
In the final segment about the future, Herzog asks whether the Internet dreams. Some, like Jonathan Zittrain at Harvard and a couple of brain researchers at Carnegie Mellon, take the question seriously. By taunting his interviewees into anthropomorphizing computers – can the Internet dream? Can it love? -- Herzog wickedly sets up a closed loop argument for why the Internet can never be like humans. To clinch his point, he ends the film with a group of wizened looking musicians playing bluegrass in a section of the U.S. where there are no cell towers and therefore no cell phones. This, he seems to say, is what it is to be human.
And what about Facebook? No mention of social networks in this film, just a parting shot of Tibetan monks checking their smartphones by a river by some big city in the U.S. Herzog alludes to their tweeting, but perhaps they are checking out emails from the Dalai Lama or their relatives.
An entertaining movie with some thoughtful interludes thanks to Danny Hillis, but it’s more about Herzog’s reveries than about what the Internet hath wrought.