Werner Herzog has explored the known world from the Amazon and Antarctica to the prehistoric cave of Chauvet. It seems only fitting that he would set his restless, perpetually questioning sights on the Internet, the ether where we spend increasingly more of our lives, at their most public and most intensely secret.
Herzog’s documentary “Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World” is just what its title promises: A series of ruminations, each its own 10-to-15-minute chapter, on the origins, implications, moral ambiguities and latent possibilities of a medium we’ve absorbed readily, almost reflexively, without much consideration of the consequences.
Beginning at UCLA, where the first message was sent on what would become the Internet, and traveling the globe to interview engineers and astronomers, philosophers and hackers, robotics experts and refuseniks, Herzog creates an intriguing bookend to Alex Gibney’s “Zero Days,” which examined the looming dangers of cyberwarfare. Although Herzog touches briefly on the subject of security, he’s far more interested in how our online life has changed us and whether it’s allowed us to access the best parts of ourselves — such as when a huge community of gamers comes together to help find a cure for disease — or the worst, represented by a family who were sent horrific emails and graphic pictures following the death of their daughter in a car accident.
Is the technological ideal to be found in absolute transparency or absolute privacy? As one early pioneer observes, the founding irony of the Internet is that it was created by scientists with such idealism and mutual trust that they couldn’t comprehend the potential for anonymous cruelty and abuse that they were unleashing.
Formally, “Lo and Behold” breaks no new ground: It’s a collection of talking heads, archival footage and illustrations, punctuated by Herzog’s own queries and asides, delivered in the German accent that always conveys a tone of barely contained existential panic. Of course, that’s what makes the movie special, as when Herzog insists on bringing the conversation back to the mysteries of love and attraction, or when, during a speculative digression about video games, he intones the phrase “malevolent Druid dwarf.”
Thoughtful, searching and wonderfully moving in its wistful final moments, “Lo and Behold” may not be Herzog’s most artistically ambitious film, but it’s an intriguing, even important one nonetheless. Come for the engaging, reflective tutorial on technological progress, human nature and transformation; stay for the malevolent Druid dwarves.
PG-13. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Contains brief strong language and some thematic elements. 98 minutes.