Werner Herzog, USA, 2016, 98 min.
Herzog’s documentary on connective technology feels capricious, only tangentially sticking to the timeline it tries to explore: the birth of the internet to the future of what it might become. The film varies scene to scene from flighty and amusing to unsettling and profound. It’s at times self-indulgent, at times brilliant, but all too much the former.
Herzog has always done things his own way, and that has given him a certain cache in the film-world, but in the mainstream the image he portrays has pretty much become a meme. It seems with this film that he has embraced his role as a melancholic German-madman-film-vigilante/provocateur. In his familiar accented-narration, he almost revels in it, knowing just what to say to make sure the audience remembers he is “Werner Herzog.”
There is a part when he describes the hallway at Cal Tech that leads to the first internet server as “repulsive.” He asks a robot-scientist if he loves his robot. Another line of narration has him describing, unprompted, a computer game character a young internet-addicted girl might have been playing as a “malevolent dwarf druid.” This over a dramatic shot of empty swinging playground rings.
A good documentary should have some good subject matter, and this sometimes does. The talking heads are smart and interesting and even though topics aren’t explored as much as I would like, the seeds of ideas were planted in my mind. It had me thinking about the ramifications of our technology from the get-go.
Keep in mind when watching this that Herzog tells us in the title what the style of this documentary is going to be. These indeed are reveries. A stroll through some deep ideas, wandering this way and that, focusing on some interesting things and passing others by completely.
He confirms this with the final question he asks to all of his talking heads: Does the internet dream of itself? Leave it to the Herzog-meme-machine to come up with something like that. To his credit though, or more to the credit of the interviewees, this leads to some very intriguing responses.
I left with some interesting thoughts in my head, but I flitted in and out of the journey depending on who was talking and what they were talking about. The loose structure wasn’t strong enough to hang such varied topics on. As for entertainment, Lo and Behold suffers from Herzog trying too hard to be the Herzog people expect him to be.