Werner Herzog’s new film, Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, lives up to its subtitle. Opening at The Chelsea on Friday, the documentary immerses us in the auteur’s thoughts on technology. Watching the film feels like entering Herzog’s dreams, the way Leonardo DiCaprio’s character does in Inception. Reverie, rather than story, is what Herzog offers.
Presenting his thoughts in a series of chapters, Herzog meanders from the birth of the internet to artificial intelligence to the colonization of Mars, exploring the dark side of technology along the way.
One chapter features the tragic story of the Catsaouras family. Surrounded by their three remaining daughters, whose silent despair is palpable on screen, the parents recall the incomprehensible harassment they experienced following their late daughter’s death in a car accident. For reasons that can only be attributed to human depravity, anonymous internet trolls found and published photos of the mangled body and sent them with taunting messages to the family. The mother now sees nothing but evil in the internet, and we can’t blame her. Herzog’s framing and pacing make the scene appropriately unsettling for the viewer to feel the family’s suffering.
Yet Lo and Behold is not an anti-technology jeremiad. Herzog also considers the practical, as well as the recreational, benefits of technology. One computer scientist in the film presents the popular internet-based video game he developed to involve players in the mapping of real RNA molecules. Sebastian Thrun, the founder of Udacity, extols the potential of self-driving cars to become continuously safer. In another scene, a robotics engineer proudly displays his soccer-playing robots, which he believes will be capable of defeating the FIFA world champions by the year 2050.
Herzog’s reservations about the proliferation of internet-based technology are nonetheless felt throughout the film. Fundamentally, Lo and Behold is the filmmaker’s rumination on our place in a world potentially shared with self-aware machines. Herzog still has questions about the morals of such a world, though he is certain about one reality: machines will never be able to make films as good as his.