Caught short in the web
Werner Herzog’s latest doc is full interesting turns and provocative questions, but not nearly enough Herzog, writes
LO AND BEHOLD: REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED WORLD Directed by Werner Herzog. Featuring Werner Herzog, Kevin Mitnick, Elon Musk, Joydeep Biswas, Shawn Carpenter, Hilarie Cash, Christina Catsouras. Club, limited release, 98 min A line from Grizzly Man stands as the defining text for Werner Herzog’s recent, triumphant career in documentary film-making. “I believe the common denominator of the universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility, and murder,” he says in that disconcertingly warm burr.
Within the first few mo- ments of this meditation on the internet, Werner offers suggestions that we’ll be travelling down a similar road. “The corridors look repulsive, but this one leads to a shrine,” he says. Do they? The passageways of UCLA’s Boelter Hall are no more “repulsive” than those in any other academic satellite. There’s a sense that Herzog is working hard to set us up for another evening of apocalyptic despair.
That’s not how Lo and Behold works out. Divided into 10 distinct chapters, the picture approaches the subject in a spirit of inquisitive good humour. Herzog’s comments from behind the camera suggest an enthusiastic student eager to demonstrate his attentiveness.
The trademark pessimism does still appear. In one dizzyingly gloomy episode, experts speculate on how a massive solar flare might wipe out the internet. Elsewhere, we meet first-world people who, apparently made sick by wireless signals, have retired to a rural retreat for relief.
The most powerful section focuses on the awful trials of the Castouras family. Interviewed in his home, Mr Castouras explains how his daughter died after driving the family Porsche into a tollbooth. The family were still processing the news when an anonymous email arrived containing photographs of the dead woman’s decapitated body. Mrs Castouras’s chilling assertion that the internet is a “manifestation of the antichrist” looks to be gesturing towards further horrors, but Herzog pulls back to consider the medium’s more savoury possibilities.
Lo and Behold plays like a journey with no certain destination. It begins in Boelter Hall with a primitive dial-up connection. At the other end of the project – the bit that juts into the future – we discuss life on Mars, self-driving cars and robots that can play football.
Sebastian Thrun, an expert in robotics, claims that we will eventually have an artificial intelligence that is able to make movies. “Will they be as good as yours? No one can come close,” he adds. That shows due respect.
Lo and Behold is, however, not the best work by this particular human. The film is packed with interesting turns and provocative questions, but it lacks cohesive shape and it fails to find satisfying direction. Lo and Behold plays like a series of diverting essays on a subject about which almost everybody is now some sort of expert. There’s just not enough Herzog here.