Werner Herzog has made a career of documenting humans struggling with nature. His subjects are the people who live (and die) with grizzly bears in the Alaskan wilderness, the aviation engineer trying to fly through South American rainforests, or Antarctic scientists isolated at the “end of the world.” At the heart of these documentaries is the disconnect between the nature-loving subjects and Herzog’s Germanic skepticism. In the celebrated Grizzly Man, about the bear advocate Timothy Treadwell, Herzog states “that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy.” But in his 2016 documentary, Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World—which is currently streaming on Netflix—Herzog turns his existential eye to the center of modern civilization: the Internet. There, he finds a similar mix of marvels and horrors as he does in the extremes of nature.
Lo and Behold begins at the beginning, at the UCLA campus where the Internet was created. “The corridors here look repulsive,” Herzog narrates, “and yet this one leads to some short of a shrine.” It is the room where the internet was born, and it houses old computer parts like holy relics. Herzog’s guide, UCLA professor Leonard Kleinrock, calls it a “holy place” and tells the story of the first internet message, which was going to be “login” but the computer crashed after the first two letters: Lo. “As in lo and behold,” Kleinrock says with an awed smile.
From there, Herzog asks you to be awed, yes, but also frightened. Lo and Behold takes a scattershot approach to our interconnected world, looking at everything from social media harassment to the forefront of advanced robotics and possibilities of living on Mars. Herzog interviews some of the most famous figures in technology—including tech evangelist Elon Musk and “the world’s most famous hacker” Kevin Mitnick—to groups of people attempting (with mixed success) to live outside of the connected world.
Read the full film review and trailer here.