Every now and then, a documentary comes along and you watch it and you sit there and you think, “God. I’ve made some poor life choices”. Werner Herzog’s Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World is one of them. As the credits rolled, I drifted from the bustling cinema in a kind of haze, my mind lingering on a single question: why hadn’t I looked into this director sooner?
Clearly, I need to atone for my sins, and I’m sure Netflix can help with that — but let’s focus on this film for a moment. Lo and Behold is a surprisingly optimistic look at the past, present and future of the Internet, in which Herzog guides his audience through a series of ten “chapters”, each examining a sliver of the online world…and, indeed, its reach into the offline one. Boasting gorgeous cinematography and carried by enormously charming characters, this film is a ride. In the beginning we are dropped into the Internet’s humble birthplace, a single room in the Stanford Research Institute, yet somehow, toward the end, we end up pondering solar flares. Don’t let that fool you, though — each segment contributes to a remarkably cohesive end product, with the heartfelt, exploratory, informative and humorous balanced expertly.
Herzog’s latest is visually, emotionally and intellectually engaging. And while, yes, it does include the Obligatory Roasting of the Young Generation’s Dependence on the Internet we’re all expecting, there’s a lot more to this film than whippersnappers on iPhones. We see monks in flowing orange robes, drifting along before a rigid urban backdrop — all, apparently, tweeting. We meet gaming addicts, and little soccer bots whom their creator hopes will one day rival Messi. A family ruined by tragedy and emails. A secluded community living around a satellite. It’s an interesting set of stories, and Herzog does an incredible job of compacting the endlessly vast and multi-faceted beast that is the World Wide Web into bite-sized chunks. (Look, at least I didn’t say ‘byte-sized’.)
I remember overhearing a couple’s conversation as I left. “Well, you should watch the rest of his films,” a gentleman said to his partner. “They’re all that good.”
You know, Mr. Stranger, if what I’ve just seen is any indication, I think you might be onto something. Lo and Behold: a wonderful piece of work.
This review is a part of SWINE Magazine’s Melbourne International Film Festival coverage.