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Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (2016) Review

Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World is a 2016 documentary exploring the breadth of the internet from its conception to the incomprehensible impact it has had on the human condition.

It’s rare when a documentarian becomes arguably more well-known than the films they produce, though filmmaker Werner Herzog is one, synonymous with exploration and discovery, a person who seems insatiable in finding answers to questions many of us don’t think to ask. Behind some of the most revealing and easily most compelling examinations of everything from grizzly bears and volcanoes to deep caves and the world of music, now he turns his lens upon technology, particularly, the internet itself, exposing the mysteries and magic behind the single most galvanizing tool ever invented in this evocative and thought-provoking film.

Its start where it should, and in a place that seems unreal, the very beginning of the internet, literally. At the University of California Los Angeles, we see the first piece of the internet ever designed, assembled and installed, where one of its pioneers explains how it all started, including a log sheet that he compares to the same logbook of the man on the Columbus expedition who first sited land. In many ways, the comparison is a good one because, while that journey opened up boundaries and worlds unknown to many, it also brought with it unspeakable horrors and questions about morality.

As usual, Herzog is less of a narrator of the experience than a facilitator who uses few of his own words in getting people to tell their stories. It’s always been this aspect of his work that drives his films, the vivid personalities that give great weight to the subject. A long line of scientists and engineers naturally have their say, who reveal the astonishing potential and accomplishments of the internet, but he also travels the globe, introducing us to a rich range of people who have shaped and have been shaped by the internet, both in positive and often devastatingly tragic ways.

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World
Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World, 2015 © Saville Productions

Herzog has always been interested in the existential experience and he ponders a number of philosophical questions about the relationship of nature and technology, probing many to think about answers, even though none could be had. Still, the theories are profound. While he does this, he zooms about Earth and swings the pendulum from some of the smartest minds on the planet who rely on the internet as a tool to research and develop life-changing programs that work on the atomic level to those exploring the vastness of space to people who have abandoned the modern world, living in off-grid communities, freeing themselves of everything from gaming or pornographic addictions to many who claim their health is dramatically effected by radio waves.

While there are dark moments to the film, and rightfully so, Herzog can’t resist several moments of social commentary and a larger message of hope. As many of the more profound moments are presented, including the need for man to one day leave this planet and deeper questions about the internet itself being able to even dream, Herzog layers it all with the rising strings and horns of Wagner’Das Rheingold – Vorspiel, which gives the work a kind of majesty and wonder, while he purposefully jumps from many who attempt to find answers.

Despite these genuinely stirring moments, there is a patchwork feel to it that sometimes becomes uneven and leaves a few stretches without much momentum, though they are easily overcome by grander scenes that inspire. Like any Herzog documentary, you come away educated and outfitted for conversation, no matter your opinion. The internet is inescapable for nearly everyone on the planet, its reach expanding with astonishing speed and power. Not to reflect on where it began would be a mistake, and not to consider what it means to go forward, even worse. Lo and Behold does both and challenges us to do the same.

Lo And Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (2016)

Film Credits

Director: Werner Herzog
Stars: Elon Musk, Lawrence Krauss, Lucianne Walkowicz, many more
Genre: Documentary
Language: English

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