Lounge Loves: Werner Herzog zooms in on the Internet
One of the great pleasures of Werner Herzog 's non-fiction films is his voice-overs
In Westworld, probably the most discussed TV series last year, the robots in a Wild West-themed amusement park have inbuilt dreams—reveries, according to their creator. This word pops up in the title of Werner Herzog’s new documentary about the Internet, Lo And Behold: Reveries Of The Connected World. This is a curious little coincidence, not only because “reverie" isn’t a word you hear much nowadays, but also because these two projects, utterly different at first glance, share an all-pervasive pessimism about our dependence on technology.
Of course, technology isn’t the only thing Herzog is gloomy about. One of the great pleasures of his non-fiction films is his voice-overs, which discuss with seeming relish impending doom by volcano, climate change or more prosaic means. In this film, it’s a solar flare. When there’s a flare strong enough, he learns, the Internet could be damaged permanently, which in turn will probably derail human life. There are 10 segments in Lo And Behold, and it’s clear from some of the titles—“The Dark Side", “Life Without The Internet", “The End Of The Net"—that the German film-maker is no Web evangelist.
Herzog is one of the great chroniclers of the untamed wild, both in his fiction (Aguirre, The Wrath Of God and Fitzcarraldo) and his documentary work (Grizzly Man, Encounters At The End Of The World, The Dark Glow Of The Mountains). Though he’s made documentaries that hew closer to the urban experience, the Internet nevertheless seems like a step out of his comfort zone; that zone being somewhere near the edge of an active volcano. The segments in Lo And Behold don’t tell a cohesive story, and they probably aren’t meant to. What begins as a history of the Internet turns into a cautionary tale about cyberbullying, Web addiction and online security, before dedicating its last few segments to speculation about the future (Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX, makes an appearance).
As always, Herzog is at his best when he zeroes in on compelling eccentrics. The interviews with guests at an Internet rehab facility are fascinating, as is the strange story of the woman who found she was allergic to electronic signals of all kinds and lived in a Faraday cage for years. There’s the young scientist who programmes robots to play football and says, without visible irony, “We do love Robot 8." And there’s Herzog himself, posing, in that instantly familiar voice, the kind of questions no other documentarian will. “Could it be that the Internet starts to dream of itself?" he asks two clearly delighted brain researchers. These are the moments Herzog fans treasure, when the doomiest of modern film-makers reveals himself as one of the most romantic.
Lo And Behold: Reveries Of The Connected World is on Netflix.